Welcome to Episode 42 of the Nonprofit Leaders Network podcast series. Our guest is Lauralee Lindholm who, along with her husband, have been involved with rural community development in Ethiopia for over 28 years. In this podcast interview, we discuss topics relating to starting small, letting the experts be in the driver’s seat, connecting your board to your program, and striving for self-sufficiency so your cause can go on and grow without you.
Lauralee spent 18 years in Africa with her husband doing rural community development as a missionary. When they returned to the United States, they were overwhelmed with how much is wasted in the U.S. and how much is needed there. Ten years ago, they organized Heart for Ethiopia as a nonprofit, started selling donated books on their Heart for Ethiopia eBay store, and soon needed help with shipping as the sales rolled in. Their house is filled to the brim with books, maps, and magazines but it is a happy place to work and the volunteers have a sense of satisfaction that they are doing something to make a difference in the world. From their bookstore proceeds, they have sent over half a million dollars to Ethiopia for rural development in the last ten years.
Heart for Ethiopia focuses on helping rural education and development through churches out in the countryside, where there’s almost no other type of help. There, with a little money, they make a big impact.
It is a win-win for everyone involved as the volunteers are happy working for a good cause, the buyers are happy that their purchase money supports a good cause, and the children in Ethiopia who get a chance to go to school and the ladies who learn to read and have seed money to start a small business are happy.
You can listen and enjoy the full discussion with Lauralee Lindholm in our podcast, but here are some of the highlights.
Funding a Ministry: Starting Small
Ten years ago, Lauralee started selling donated books at their Heart For Ethiopia Bookstore on eBay. These sales generate 95% of their funding. Occasionally, they also get cash donations. Little did she know that over the next ten years she would send over half a million dollars to Ethiopia for rural development with those donated book sales. But this started small and one step at a time. She started by using the completed sales info that eBay provides, but soon found the tool Terapeak which was more efficient and had a broader scope. They were then able to sell more books at better prices. Terapeak helped her price the books so she knew where to start with the sale price.
Letting the Experts be in the Driver’s Seat
Lauralee believes it is best to let the leaders in an area decide what is needed for their people, as opposed to someone from the outside coming in trying to develop a program which (1) can’t survive without that outside supervision and funding, and (2) may be something they don’t really need. She and her husband lived in Ethiopia for many years and worked with the churches. The churches know what is useful and what they want. This method has worked well as the churches have grown, their children and adults are getting an education, and because they can then work for a living, more members tithe which helps the churches serve more people.
Connecting Your Board to Your Program
With Heart for Ethiopia raising money in the U.S. and sending it overseas, it takes a little extra work to keep the Board connected with the mission. Lauralee sends emails when significant events happen (such as a recent event when a garbage dump avalanched, covered houses and killed 50 people, some of them church members). The emails help the board members understand the more about the lives of the people they serve and how helping a little can make a big difference to people. They also have annual meetings and some of their board members have visited Ethiopia. Two of them are from Ethiopia so they also help everyone stay in touch.
Striving for Self-Sufficiency – and Putting Yourself Out of Business
The goal of Heart for Ethiopia is self-sufficiency that, whether they send money or not, the ministries in Ethiopia they support can still survive. The new headquarters building which they helped build has extra space they can rent out to provide ongoing income. The church members are better educated so they can work and have an income. They also help promote the program in Ethiopia when they are there and provide encouragement to those involved.
Find a Cause You Can Believe In
When asked what advice she would give to someone thinking about starting a non-profit, Lauralee responded that they need to find a cause people can believe in, and then communicate it in as many ways as you can. Volunteers are a key part of any non-profit. They need to buy in and be passionate about the ministry.
It is also important, Lauralee explains, to keep everyone informed. Those in Ethiopia need to communicate to those in the U.S. what is happening. This information is then shared with everyone involved with running the ministry. Also, they get letters and notes from those who buy their stuff on eBay – what they did with it and how they like the ministry. They post some of these to let people know they are helping make their ministry a success.