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Project Enterprise Winners: Hello from Alison and Jason

Editor's Note: Below is the first post from the winners of Project Enterprise. Over the next 6 or so months, Alison and Jason of Materials Matter will pull back the curtain on what it takes to run an entrepreneurial project with a humanitarian mission. They will try to post about once a week. If you want them to discuss any particular topic, send an e-mail to ProjectEnterprise@thirteen.org and it will be forwarded to them. Thanks for reading!

First of all, we want to thank everyone who voted for us. More importantly, we want to acknowledge the other three organizations that we were so humbled to be nominated with. They are all doing incredible and extremely interesting work. We hope to hear more about them in the upcoming months and wish them the best of luck with all they are doing.

Yeah!!! We won!!!

For those of you who don't know, Materials Matter is a nonprofit 501(c)3 charity whose mission is to provide the material resources nonprofits need to build housing and shelter and revitalize communities; to equip low income families with the materials and supplies they need to repair and care for their homes affordably, and to promote conservation through materials recycling.

To give you the quick spiel.

Materials Matter envisions a greener, more just world where all families can achieve a higher level of economic independence, and improve their lives and neighborhoods, and where government, for-profit and nonprofit sectors all work together to meet the triple bottom line of positive financial, environmental and social outcomes for all.

We provide overall benefits for the community while directly affecting the 'distressed and underprivileged'. We are dedicated to being a leader in cooperative resource development for nonprofits serving Orange County, the Inland Empire and the entire Southern California region.

We harness the collective buying power of the nonprofit community and the goodwill of the business community to secure low-cost and donated materials and supplies. With regular access to our services, organizations save precious financial and human resources, and ultimately build more homes and shelters and serve more families in need.

We hope to eventually take the model nationwide and from there... Who knows?

But…We Do Have Some Challenges

In the summer of 2007, we decided to embark on a big change. We decided to expand our mission so that we could help all nonprofits, not just Habitat for Humanity. We disaffiliated from Habitat for Humanity [see Materials Matter History for more explanation] and went our own way. This was an interesting time that we can talk about as a separate entry. It was extremely exciting and trying at the same time. We were losing this $4 billion name brand recognition, but that name brand was also holding us back. As Habitat we tried never to compete with the affiliates which prohibited us from seeking most grants, donations and having events. We were now free and able to leap from buildings and shout our name. The question was, how do we climb up to those roofs? And did anyone want to hear us shout?

The last five months have been amazing and very challenging. We've been more successful that ever, but yet been struggling financially -- we think mostly due to the housing market and the way we've been structured. Again, we can talk about all of this more in the upcoming journal entries, but let's just say, it hasn't been easy. However, we knew that with the rebranding and introduction of this semi-new entity without the fancy name needed some help. We discussed the hiring of a PR firm to help get the word out to the community. And, if anyone is thinking of starting a nonprofit or even has any business that needs a little kickstart, I'd say, hire a PR firm (a good one with references and a lot of experience that meets your needs).

It was the best thing we ever did. They helped us with our credibility -- to develop a name for ourselves without a name that everybody knew. They helped us spread the word about who we were and what we were doing and people started to notice us. We still answer the question of why we changed or if we're still associated with Habitat and we can happily explain who we are and how many more organizations we're able to help now. Of course, we admire Habitat's work and will always continue to support the affiliates any way we can, but there are just so many great organizations doing great work that really need the assistance we can provide. And over the last few years we've distributed over $3 million dollars worth of materials to nonprofits, helped over 3,500 families at the Home Improvement Outlet to receive products that they may otherwise not be able to afford, and we've recycled over 50 million pounds of good, usable materials that would have otherwise ended up in the landfills.

Honestly, it's kind of amazing to us at times. I have to say that we never had experience running a nonprofit. Jason and I both fell into the nonprofit world. We never set out to be here, we just are. I think we started and ran the organization based on what not to do instead of what to do. We both had business backgrounds and always felt that we had to treat the entire operation as a business. But, we really didn't know exactly what we were doing. And, Jason and I are so different in our skillsets and how we run the organization. That becomes challenging at times, too, but it works most of the time.

We beat ourselves up a lot, and sometimes forget why we do what we're doing, but then a nonprofit receives a box of paintbrushes, a few gallons of paint, and we get praised as if they just found gold. Or a low-income family comes into the store with only $50 and an empty apartment, and somehow we're able to provide them the furniture they need, some paint rollers, some new shiny knobs and a brand new sink, and their eyes swell with tears for they will now have a home instead of an empty room. It's an amazing feeling to feel like you've made a difference. And if we can make the day easier for one staff person at a nonprofit, if we can save them a few dollars to stretch their mission for just one more day. Or if we can change the life of one family by enabling them to fix a leaky roof or paint a room, or replace their carpet, then we've really made a difference, and that is what makes it all worth it.

Jason and Alison

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