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Gifts in Kind [Business Life magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Business Life magazine
April 1998

Every day, thousands of organizations around the world call IBM to request donations of
computers. Every day, IBM passes those requests on to a northern Virginia organization called Gifts In Kind International.

“Gifts In Kind really provides valuable services to corporations in the field of technology,” says Kevin Davis, manager of IBM’s corporate matching grants programs. “They provide management supervision as far as where the equipment goes. They pick up the equipment and store it until they distribute it. And they act as an interface to resolve any problems that arise.”

After all that work, Gifts In Kind reports back to IBM to tell the computer giant where its equipment has gone. In 1997, IBM computers went just about everywhere. The company donated about $5 million worth of equipment.

Linking corporations and charities is the mission of Gifts In Kind. Established in 1983 with a $200,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation, the organization is the middleman that moves the surplus goods produced by Fortune 500 companies to more than 50,000 charities worldwide. In 1997, its total distributions were more than $300 million.

“We give to any charity that serves the needy of any kind,” says Susan Corrigan, the president and CEO behind the gifts. “It may be a women’s shelter, an after-school program for kids, a community center for the elderly, or a program that serves meals to the homebound.”

In addition to helping IBM decide who gets 486 computers, Corrigan’s organization manages product-giving programs for 1,000 companies in total—including Microsoft Corporation, Avon, Gillette, Kmart, and Sears, Roebuck and Co., and even NIKE.

In fact, it was a pair of Nike sneakers that came as the greatest gift to several
children living temporarily at a shelter in Alexandria, Virginia.

“We had one family living here recently because the father lost his job and they were evicted from their apartment,” says Mary Martin, deputy director of Carpenter’s Shelter. “They had to put their belongings in storage while they were here and you could tell the kids were really feeling awful about the situation. Then a donation of several boxes of Nike sneakers arrived.

“Well, you can’t believe how excited the kids were. They knew their family was in crisis and living in a shelter, but they didn’t want to feel different than other kids. When they got those new Nikes it was like everything was okay. Those sneakers were new, and they were all theirs. Those shoes helped the kids and the family keep some semblance of normalcy.”

Martin says the sneakers are just one of the products that have regularly arrived at the shelter, the largest in Northern Virginia, since the early 1990s. The shelter has come to depend on donations of bedding, toiletries, and work clothes for the 100 homeless people that regularly live there for up to four months at a time.

It is the virtue of those who have, giving to those who don’t, which appeals most to Gifts in Kind CEO Corrigan.

“The concept behind Gifts In Kind just makes good sense all around,” Corrigan says. “Companies have products that they aren’t going to sell for some reason, or products that are slower to sell. Charities certainly need everything they can get. We are the group in the middle that makes the transfer happen.”

Corrigan helped found the organization 14 years ago. At the time, she was assistant to the president of the United Way of America and 3M made a contribution of office equip ment. The Board of Directors didn’t think the gift fit with the United Way’s mission.

But Corrigan got to thinking that other companies would be interested in making in-kind donations. Several of her colleagues, including other heads of large organizations such as AT&T, agreed with her. So she approached several groups for support. The Lilly Foundation in Indianapolis gave her a $200,000 grant, Electrolux donated 8,000 vacuums, and Sara Lee (which also owns Leggs and Hanes) donated clothes. Gifts In Kind was up and giving.

Since then, Gifts In Kind has
provided more than $1 billion in
product donations to the needy – including victims of natural disasters.
In fact, she was on business in Little
Rock, Arkansas, the day before a big
storm struck. Less than a week later,
supplies from Gifts In Kind arrived at
the local food bank for victims who
lost their homes.

Gifts In Kind supplied sunglasses, sun block, and toys for the children after the Oklahoma City bombing. And during the floods in the mid-west last Spring, Gifts In Kind provided two million plastic bags, which FEMA filled with sand to block waters from rolling down main streets.

In 1997, Gifts In Kind officially began working internationally (and changed its name from Gifts In Kind America). It has thus far sent one million syringes to Romania to help babies with AIDS, and thousands of pairs of hospital gloves, as well as medical pins to help
secure broken bones after the Armenian earthquake.

The list goes on – and donations will continue to grow. “By the year 2000, we plan to distribute $500,000,000 in products every year as a standard,” Corrigan says. “This year, we took leaps internationally by creating affiliates in the United Kingdom and Canada. We will help launch more around the world in the coming years, including affiliates in
Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and Spain.”

In-kind giving is the trend, she says. “Everybody used to sit down and write a check,” says Corrigan. “But by giving products, donors give a helping hand to people in need.”

It is important to Corrigan to give back to society. She has worked in the non-profit sector for decades. Prior to working at the United Way of America, she was the manager of training at the National Alliance of Business. Film is her background, and she was a producer/director of films from at the U.S. Department of Labor starting in 1976, after spending years producing more than 100 television commercials, as well as a Mr. Rogers Special.

She says her work at Gifts In Kind is the most valuable work of her life.
“I think Gifts In Kind provides a valuable role to society,” says Corrigan. “I do it because I want to be able to help people in some way. I feel very lucky to have found a place where I can work really hard to make a change in such a positive way.”

For more information visit: www.giftsinkind.org.


More Business Life magazine Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.