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Project Enterprise Winner: Materials Matter

Materials Matter
Problem addressed: Nonprofit housing organizations often waste money and resources buying expensive building materials.
Solution: Creation of a regional center that coordinates the solicitation and distribution of large donations of building supplies and secures bulk purchasing deals on behalf of nonprofit organizations.

Not only does a regional center make it easier for donors by serving as a single point of contact, it provides valuable coordination services, harnessing nonprofits' collective buying power to secure bulk purchasing deals. In 2005, founders McKinstry and Riback moved their operation to a large facility in Corona, Calif., and launched a social enterprise venture to secure its future. Named the Home Improvement Outlet, the venture is a discount and surplus store open to families who otherwise may not be able to afford home improvement options.

Addressing the lack of affordable housing, while acting as a source of sustainable funds, the social enterprise store can be considered the heart of the organization. Materials Matter also uses key business strategies to work towards solving the problem. By identifying some of the key concerns and issues faced by the business community and building industry, the organization offers a "win-win trade" of services for materials and supplies. Materials Matter relieves valuable warehouse space for building supply retailers (Home Depot, Lowe's, etc.) that have surplus stock or items that may be out of season, but are otherwise new and perfectly usable. The organization does the moving, loading and transportation of these materials—regardless of the size of the donation—timely and efficiently and without charging any fees.

With Materials Matter, businesses have the option to contribute to worthy causes while avoiding the hassle and cost of using for-profit liquidators. The organization ensures that these donations are put to good use and are reinvested where they are needed most: Materials are distributed to nonprofit organizations for builds and construction projects or are sold at the Home Improvement Outlet at 50 to 80 percent below retail prices. Additionally, tons of good materials are saved from going to landfills each year. Materials Matter's business model provides an all-around beneficial situation for the environment and for all members of the community. Harnessing the collective buying power of the nonprofit community and the goodwill of the business community, Materials Matter effectively and efficiently secures low-cost and donated materials while helping organizations save precious financial and human resources.

Because its mission is relevant regardless of the location, this unique business model can be replicated and be just as effective anywhere in the United States and across the globe. Through Materials Matter, Jason and Alison envision a greener, more just world where all families have a safe place to live, 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.

The Story of How Materials Matter Began

Alison Riback started with Habitat for Humanity International as an "Affiliate Support Specialist" in January of 2002. While meeting with 10 or so affiliates in and around Sacramento, the affiliates expressed their desire and need for a centralized warehouse and some facilitation for working together. When meeting with affiliates in Southern California, Arizona and Wyoming, Alison heard similar needs. She started to find out more specifics from affiliates and consulted with her Regional counterpart to come up with a solution. Seemed pretty obvious, but wasn't being done within Habitat or at least anywhere she could find.

Meanwhile, Jason McKinstry had been working as the VP of Material Acquisition at the Orange County, California, affiliate for 8 years. He was the liaison between the affiliate and donors to acquire material donations. Jason often encountered problems with donors receiving multiple calls from affiliates throughout the area for the same donations. He, too, started thinking of a place in which there could be one contact for affiliates and donors.

Alison and Jason met at a real estate meeting in June of 2002. At the urging of Alison's counterpart (probably for other reasons), they started talking and sharing ideas about a place that could serve affiliates as a donation and distribution center. They began to formulate a business plan.

They also started working with a vacation property donation. This was a chance to coordinate large-scale donations in different areas throughout California and Nevada and help the local affiliates in the process. This later became one of the cornerstones of what was then, the Habitat for Humanity Resource Center-the Hospitality Division.

After many drafts of a business plan, a trip to Habitat for Humanity's head office in Americus, and jumping through many hoops to say the least, the Habitat for Humanity Resource Center was created. After a LOT of paperwork and preliminary meetings, the 501c3 was received in January of 2004. Jason and Alison along with one other associate worked to raise funds and awareness and finally found a building in the spring of 2005. The vision was a donation and distribution center that would help the affiliates throughout California, Arizona and Nevada to reduce their homebuilding costs. What they grew into was sort of that and so much more.

After over two years of operation, the Resource Center hit a crossroads. The mission was always to help reduce the cost of construction for Habitat affiliates, and our vision continued to be that no Habitat affiliate will ever have to pay retail for home building materials. In working towards building a distribution facility that would live up to that vision, they had been both embraced and, alarmingly, spurned by local affiliates. Jason and Alison also encountered many challenges as they tried to work within the Habitat for Humanity structure, especially while the international bureaucracy was itself in the process of being restructured.

They knew what they were doing well and also identified what the real concerns were of others who felt their operation was a competitive threat rather than a collaborative partnership in materials acquisition. Following an internal annual review, they had a great deal of soul searching to do as an organization. They always sought to do the most good and serve the most people in need by helping such worthy agencies as HFH harness their collective buying power and influence to gain access to donated and low-cost building materials. The process of developing a cooperative entity while respecting HFH's territorial cultural norms was tough, to say the least.

Also, with HFH they experienced so much turnover that they continually had to explain who they were and what the purpose was. They constantly moved Jason and Alison around within the structure unsure of where or if they fit.

In acknowledgement of these challenges and with a desire to position
Themselves to best accomplish their mission and do the most good, the board of directors in conjunction with recommendations by the staff voted to change their name to Materials Matter, disaffiliate from Habitat for Humanity and expand their mission to serve ALL nonprofits in need of the materials we can provide. Materials Matter was born in the summer of 2007.

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