Steve Votaw from Furniture Bank of Central Ohio discussed the depth in their mission to “turn empty houses into homes of hope”. A phrase of “empty houses” referring to the barren conditions of a household pushing through poverty. A lack of material resources, such as furniture and appliances, can eat away at the warmth of a home. Furniture Bank of Central Ohio noticed the resources are available, yet oftentimes wasted by fortunate families wishing to trash items. At the core, the initiative is redirecting items from becoming waste to finding renewed purpose in a new home.
Each tale has its own twist. Origins for this initiative start with being a nonprofit. Steve talked through how the service and businesses model was not sustainable solely through philanthropic giving. The team decided to bring social enterprise into their nonprofit. In fact, there was urgency for a pivot. A partner who regularly gave the initiative $1 million could no longer support at that capacity. With no time to spare, the team was pivoting and experimenting with their external and internal operations.
Ultimately, the shifts led toward two main approaches. The initiative now earns funds through owning thrift stores and operating a downsizing company. Funds can be secured by sales and received for the value of service. Conveniently, furniture can be gained through both options, which adds to the furniture the initiative supplies to families.
Steve indulged in finding a good rhythm and the topic alludes to the compound of effort. While discussing the journey of their first thrift store, he expressed the growth from $40,000 in surplus the first year to $250,000 surplus the second year. The thrift store was more for maintaining operations, so any surplus was a gift. Discovering a fitting business model did more than expected.
“It takes away the pressure on philanthropy because if we can raise our own resources through these efforts, it reduces our dependence on philanthropic support.”–Steve Votaw
Focusing more on numbers and impact, Steve explained the evolution of impact within Furniture Bank of Central Ohio. He first observed the growing need created by poverty being amplified by the disproportionately smaller presence of government assistance. Impact driven by the initiative comes from earning funds, volunteers, donations, and adjustments to the business model personalized for the mission. Steve broke down a few numbers to the core operations making everything function.
In the near future, the initiative will be tested again by another residual issue of the pandemic. Steve expressed his thoughts on what role evictions will play in the initiative’s operations moving forward. Recognizing a shift reminds the team that the work is not over. Sharing a personal story, Steve recalled a “moving” moment he witnessed as one family was being helped. The moment is proof of simple things holding tremendous meaning. Steve summed up the experience saying that even the smallest moment “helps make a house, a home”.