The following is a conversation between Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.
Denver: I would imagine that most everyone listening knows of at least one person who has volunteered to help build a simple, decent, and affordable house as part of Habitat for Humanity, the largest nonprofit builder in the world. There’s an awful lot that goes into this, not just in the United States, but in the nearly 70 countries where they operate. Here to walk us through it all is Jonathan Reckford, the Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity International. Good evening, Jonathan, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Jonathan: Good evening, Denver. Thanks for having me on your show.
Denver: Why don’t we begin by having you give us some of the history of the organization, which might be useful since almost everyone I know thinks that Habitat was founded by President and Mrs. Carter?
Jonathan: It’s so true. I think the two things people know most about Habitat turn out not to be true. One, that President and Mrs. Carter founded Habitat, which is not true. We can certainly talk how they put it on the map; and that the second is, that we give away houses, which is also a misconception.
Habitat was actually started – the backstory is a quite remarkable pastor named Clarence Jordan– in 1942, started an interracial farm in Southwest Georgia. You can imagine how popular that was in Southwest Georgia in 1942. The farm always struggled. They were boycotted, bombed, harassed. But he had an extraordinary influence on a large number of pastors and social leaders and was a great believer in nonviolent social justice. He, in the 1960s, gathered a group together… The farm was really struggling… to think about what might be next.
Out of that time of prayer and deliberation came this idea of a fund for humanity where they would surround sharecropping farmers who were living in these terrible shacks, build them a proper house, and then give them a no-profit loan that they would then pay back… And then actually, in the spirit of community, keep making payments after they paid it back, so that the fund would be sustainable, and their repayments would help the next family have the opportunity to have a loan. Our founder, Millard Fuller, was part of that original test group. He then took the idea to Africa, what was then Zaire, and tested if for three years and came back in 1976 and officially started Habitat for Humanity. And it really spread as a grassroots movement. He was very charismatic, and if you sat on a plane with Millard, by the time you got off the plane, you’d start Habitat wherever you were. It just really bloomed across the world.
A pivotal moment really was in 1984 when President and Mrs. Carter got involved. I actually just did the checking. I think cumulatively between ’76 and ’84, we had built 758 houses across the world. You can really see the inflection point. After the Carters got involved, Habitat got a huge amount of attention, and their continued presence and so many people getting involved and taking leadership, we’ve now been able to help over 13 million worldwide have newer, improved housing. So, it’s been exciting to see.
The basic idea and core principal has held all the way along. Clarence had a wonderful quote. He said, “What the poor need is not charity, but capital. Not case workers, but co-workers; and what the rich need is a wise, honorable, and just way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.” He had this view that everyone had something to give, and everyone had something to gain by working together. That spirit of Habitat has always been that way. Volunteers come. We do subsidize the loans to make them affordable, but there’s always been an element of both sweat equity; the families actually help build their homes and their neighbors’ homes; and then they pay back that affordable mortgage, and we recycle those payments in the same community, helping the next family have an opportunity to improve their living conditions. And then we also do view part of our mission is to influence the volunteers and build community. We’ve seen transformation both in the lives of volunteers and in the families who are purchasing the homes.
I’m always similarly surprised that housing is not higher on the priority list. What we really see– and the data is overwhelming– is the direct correlation that if a child grows up without proper housing, she doesn’t stay healthy, she doesn’t do as well in school, and therefore has a very low chance of being self-sufficient. If you inject good housing in, it doesn’t solve everything, but we see much better health outcomes. Therefore, better educational outcomes. Therefore, the better the chance of being self-sustaining economically at the end of the cycle.
Denver: As you know, housing is often overlooked when poverty is discussed, but the ripple effects of having a stable home– whether it be for the members of the family or the community itself– they really can’t be overstated, Jonathan. What are some of its impacts?
Jonathan: Housing, as you say, is so fundamental. It really is foundational for all the other things we care about. I’m always similarly surprised that it’s not higher on the priority list. What we really see– and the data is overwhelming– is the direct correlation that if a child grows up without proper housing, she doesn’t stay healthy, she doesn’t do as well in school, and therefore, has a very low chance of being self-sufficient. If you inject good housing in, it doesn’t solve everything, but we see much better health outcomes. Therefore, better educational outcomes. Therefore, the better the chance of being self-sustaining economically at the end of the cycle. We’ve seen over and over again families breaking that intergenerational cycle of poverty.
We really do think housing is a foundation; my growing hypothesis is, Denver, about why it hasn’t been higher on the list is in our increasingly economically segregated societies around the world, most of us can live our daily lives without seeing the way that our brothers and sisters in other parts of our same cities might be living. It’s not visceral in the way that we can all relate to health and education. But I think when you talk to someone who’s experienced poverty housing, after food and water, it is the most basic need in terms of creating a decent life.
Denver: We don’t have very many mixed residential communities, that’s for sure.
You mentioned before that you’ve helped over 13 million people since its founding. How many of them have been in the United States? How many of them have been in those other 70 or so countries?
Jonathan: I think people are often surprised, because we have such a broad footprint in the US with our 1,300 local Habitat chapters, that the great majority of the families we serve are actually outside the US. Part of that, of course, is the cost per home is much lower, and part of that is the ability to do some market development work that has allowed us to scale faster in some countries around the world, and we can talk more about that. If you look at the current mix, historically, probably it would be about 15% to 20% of our work is domestic. But currently, it’s approaching 95% of the individuals we’re touching are outside the US.
Denver: What’s the nature of the relationship that you have with these national offices and these affiliate organizations… and the relationship they have with the international organization?
Jonathan: We directly relate to them. They really own the local work. If you’re in the US and you’d be working with the local Habitat, they’re a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and our role is to both equip and support them as well as uphold the standards and protect and grow the brand. In some ways, it’s not exactly a franchise but almost works like that in the US. Internationally, we have a much bigger role in the direct funding and operations of some of the countries. But the same philosophy. We’ve always had a philosophy of: that it should be locally owned. I love meeting a new staff member in Indonesia who was very surprised to find out that Habitat existed outside Indonesia. If you do it as a local… they’re an Indonesian nonprofit, and I think that’s actually terrific.
Denver: You cleared up one of the misconceptions I think a lot of people had before… about the fact that you don’t give away these homes. But let’s get into a little bit more detail as to how this program works. How do you go about deciding what families will be eligible for it? And what are their responsibilities and obligations?
Jonathan: We have a variety of programs, but the basic program would be the three criteria to partner with Habitat. The first is, we only work with low-income families. If the bank would give them a loan, we typically would not work with them. We’re serving families that are between usually 30% and 60% of the area median income. Second is the willingness to partner. We do treat them – they have to be ready to buy a home, so there’s a whole preparation where they have to actually– in addition to sweat equity of helping build their home and their neighbors’ homes– they have to take classes in financial management and home maintenance so that they’re really well-prepared by that time. And they also have to have clean credit and to demonstrate the ability to pay back that affordable mortgage. Those are the three pieces; if they’re low-income, willing to partner, and demonstrate the ability to pay back that affordable mortgage, then we work with them.
Unfortunately, as you can imagine, there’s far more demand than we have land and resources to supply, so it is a competitive process. It’s always heartbreaking to turn families away. What’s really exciting though is that the amount of preparation has led to a remarkable success. If you think about it, we’re technically a sub-sub-prime lender. One of my favorite stories… with all the pain of the recession when we had people across all income bands defaulting on their loans across the United States…. Habitat’s foreclosure rate went up to only 2%. Even though we’re lending to very low-income families, that preparation, commitment and in some ways, of course, the basics; we’re lending them a mortgage they can actually afford on about 30% of their income. And then we’re giving them the preparation and tools, and they’re purchasing a very simple, energy-efficient home that they know how to take care of. So, it’s in some ways the basics we think are there…that maybe all housing organizations should follow.
Denver: Looking at this issue from a broader perspective, let’s talk about affordable housing. How many people in this country are paying more than 30%, whether it be for their mortgage or for the rent?
Jonathan: Shockingly, we have got, I think, it’s now 19 million households paying more than 30% of their income, and close to half of them paying more than half of their income on their rent or mortgage. If you think about that by definition, that means they’re having to forego either costs for education, for medical, for food, for other constraints. It really does create a hardship. Even more, if you think about your true housing cost as the cost of your rent or mortgage, plus your utilities, plus transportation to get to work– sort of the full cost of housing– it’s actually much worse than that. Because often people have to go far away to find affordable rent in our cities.
Denver: Families are having to make some horrific choices.
Volunteers are the real backbone of your program, Jonathan. Tell us how you go about recruiting, managing, and then training people to build a house. Some, like me, have no idea of what they’re doing, and of course, you’re mindful of their safety all the while.
Jonathan: We take that last part incredibly seriously. We have actually this amazing group of hardcore volunteers called our Care-A-Vanners who actually go around the country. They’re self-sufficient, and they do trainings for our affiliates on good safety practices. We have safety certifications to make sure that we do create a safe environment. I think one of the aha’s that we’ve had really is… the reason we use volunteers is less a construction strategy….tho’ we’re very excited to have our volunteers come out and build… but really it’s part of the overall social change strategy. What we’re trying to do…what we really want is when you come out for that Habitat experience– and I had my first one when I was working for the Walt Disney Company more than 25 years ago– we want that to be an on-ramp to getting engaged in the issue of affordable housing. Not an end in itself.
So, our hope is that when people come out, they have this powerful experience. Maybe working in a part of town they’ve never been in. Maybe working with families in an economic strata that they have not usually done. What we see is mutual respect and learning coming out of that. Our hope is out of that volunteer experience, they will become advocates and supporters of better housing policy; that they would become – we’d love them to become– donors. Also break down the idea that the only way to volunteer is through construction. We have wonderful skilled volunteers who are board members, who are mentors to the families, who are engaged in bringing their financial skills or legal skills or advocacy skills. There’s a huge number of ways that you can get involved that don’t necessarily involve construction for those who don’t want to put on a hard hat.
Denver: That’s a very very smart strategy, and I think getting them involved in the ecosystem is just the way to go.
Another misconception that people have, which I don’t think is quite as widespread, is that Habitat solely builds new homes. But you are very active in neighborhood revitalization as well, correct?
Jonathan: That’s right. We’ve always done a mix, but I would say, if you could bring good out of bad, the huge housing crisis of 2008 and the recession accelerated the amount of work we were doing in terms of mix. Historically, we did a majority of whole houses and then a minority of rehabs and repairs. So, we’ve always done some of both. I think the biggest mindset shift that really excited, that actually brought our US affiliates more in line with our global work, was to not just to think about how many houses can we build, but changing the framing question to: What would it take to meaningfully reduce the housing deficit in each geography that we work? That led to, along with the housing crisis, some really exciting movements by our affiliates to make long-term commitments to specific neighborhoods.
Now, we’ve got over 300 affiliates who are doing this deep-neighborhood revitalization where they’ve either started or joined coalitions that are really thinking holistically about addressing the needs of a community, and we’re going to stay focused on housing, but we fully recognize that we also need people that are thinking about education and improving the schools, people thinking about livelihoods and jobs. You need the city to partner in terms of public safety. We need food. You need all the elements of a healthy community, and we’ve really seen some beautiful examples over time where we see transformation happening, but it does take a coalition approach. And a coalition approach actually needs to start with the community itself. You’ve really got to find the sometimes informal, sometimes formal leaders in the community and get them to own the vision of what they want their community to become, and then think about what partners could come in and support that vision.
Our strategy for our disaster response is the idea of a pathway to permanence. We often will try to respond right away with volunteers in the cleanup phase. One thing we often do is distribute shelter kits that would allow a family to quickly put up temporary shelter, or have the tools to do minor repairs on their own early in the process to help them stay close to their land and their community. Then we want to come back and be part of the permanent rebuilding.
We’re not a relief organization, but we recognize that we really should be part of a long-term rebuilding of these communities.
Denver: I can see you’ve moved to outcomes from outputs.
Under your leadership, Habitat Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Program has flourished. Now, I know that each disaster is different. But generally, how do you go about focusing your response in these difficult and trying circumstances?
Jonathan: When I first joined Habitat, I had my carefully laid out 100-day plan, and then Hurricane Katrina hit right before I started. That, of course, threw it all out the window. The combination of that; that year was really a pivotal year for us because we had the… if you remember the Indian Ocean tsunami, it happened just that winter. So we had two of the largest global housing disasters in modern history happen that year. Those challenged us. Rather than building a few houses in a lot of places to think about: how do we have a scale of impact in concentrated spaces? And that’s when we formalized our disaster response program. It was really exciting. We helped over 25,000 families build back after the tsunami in Asia. And across the Gulf Coast of the US, we ended up building over 5,000 homes and helping repair a large number more than that, and that was more, a bigger concentrated effort than we had ever done before.
And we learned a lot from that. It also allowed us to test and innovate some things that maybe wouldn’t have been culturally okay in a non-disaster environment. I think philosophically, what we realized is that when these natural or man-made disasters happen, there are almost always housing disasters. It was very much on mission. We’re not a relief organization, but we recognize that we really should be part of a long-term rebuilding of these communities. It’s become in any given year about 20% of our global work, and unfortunately, this past year was a really bad year for disasters. We had the US and Caribbean hurricanes. We had earthquakes in Mexico. We had terrible flooding in Asia. Then fires, and it just keeps on coming. Even today, we’re praying for our friends in Hawaii that the hurricane will bypass or soften.
Our strategy for our disaster response is the idea of a pathway to permanence. We often will try to respond right away with volunteers in the cleanup phase. One thing we often do is distribute shelter kits that would allow a family to quickly put up temporary shelter, or have the tools to do minor repairs on their own early in the process to help them stay close to their land and their community. Then we want to come back and be part of the permanent rebuilding. So, we have a big initiative. We’re deep in the middle of “Habitat Hammers Back,” which was our response to the three hurricanes that hit the US and Puerto Rico last year and the Caribbean, but we’ve also got active disaster response going on in many places in the world right now.
Denver: Habitat has a great reputation for being there for the long run. We have, I think, what people refer to as that CNN moment, where everybody’s there, everybody pays attention. But then, the attention goes elsewhere, and that’s when you guys really step up and really help the families over the long term… when everybody else has moved on.
Jonathan: It’s actually a great point for your listeners, Denver. Thank you. And I should have said that it’s interesting, about 80% of the giving goes to that relief effort, meaning only 20% is there for the long-term rebuilding which is terribly expensive. Often we’ve encouraged people: yes, give to relief but maybe think about splitting your funding and giving some to the emergency relief, but then also investing in the long-term recovery because that’s a huge challenge for these communities.
Denver: Getting back to the Carters, this year marks the 35th Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project which is starting just about now. Where is it going to be for 2018?
Jonathan: This year, we’ll be in St. Joseph County, Indiana, and there’s a nice backstory. There’s a wonderful architect named LeRoy Troyer, who’s become a dear friend, and LeRoy has been the housebuilder on 32 of the 34 Carter projects. So, this is really to honor him. We’re going to his hometown and building in St. Joseph County. We will be in Mishawaka, Indiana which is right by South Bend where LeRoy lives, and we’re really excited.
The Carters use this week every year to bring attention not just to build homes… though it’s impressive, they directly have worked alongside more than 100,000 volunteers in 14 countries and have either built, renovated, or repaired almost 4,300 homes. But the ripple effects are much greater than that. We really use it as a way to renew leadership into the mission… to bring awareness to the need for affordable housing and really to put a spotlight on the work that we have ahead of us, and the Carters have been unbelievable ambassadors for our mission.
The ReStores are essentially home product recycling stores, where if you were to move or remodel your house, we will take everything that could be put back into use by another family.
Last year, it generated over $450 million in sales, and it kept a couple hundred thousand tons out of landfills. It’s an environmental win, and it’s really a win for the community as well as a way to leverage philanthropy.
Denver: They certainly have.
An important source of your revenue which helps support this work is your over 1,000 Habitat for Humanity ReStores. What are those?
Jonathan: Our Habitat for Humanity ReStores are really a hidden gem. We want to continue to bring more attention to them. Thank you for asking. The ReStores are essentially home product recycling stores, where if you were to move or remodel your house, we will take everything that could be put back into use by another family. We would take the furniture, cabinets, appliances, toilets, doors, windows, mantels, frames; anything that could be taken and resold. We sell those products in the stores which help both low-income families or remodelers, and then the proceeds help fund more houses for Habitat. It’s a really nice triple win.
Last year, it generated over $450 million in sales, and it kept a couple hundred thousand tons out of landfills. It’s an environmental win, and it’s really a win for the community as well as a way to leverage philanthropy. When families give to Habitat, they’re giving, and then the affiliate is both leveraging that giving with the mortgage payments from the families… and the proceeds from the ReStores, and that really creates an opportunity. One thing that’s important is, these stores of course are open to anyone. We find that for both low-income families and communities, it’s a great source of low-cost products, but also for the self-improvement people or the people in old houses that want to find that right doorknob or architectural window, they’re a great treasure find as well. I think it’s been a wonderful story, and we hope to continue to grow it.
Denver: One of your more successful initiatives has been in microfinance with the fund you created called MicroBuild. How does that work? And what has been its impact?
Jonathan: We’ve actually become a global leader in housing microfinance. If your listeners don’t know, the microfinance industry has become very large around the world. That was the idea of nonbank institutions, but now banks have gotten into it, giving small business loans to very low-income families that historically wouldn’t have been able to get banking or financing. Historically, these microfinance organizations wouldn’t lend for housing. They would only lend for businesses.
We set out to demonstrate: actually, there was a market for housing microfinance. We started out by putting our own money into these microfinance groups and training them on how to do housing portfolios. After we had tested that in a number of countries, we then launched– which was a big stretch for us– our first wholesale fund where we took on debt and launched a $100 million fund called MicroBuild where we are lending the money to these microfinance groups with technical assistance.
They then lend it to their clients for home improvement loans, and the housing loans are actually outperforming on repayments to small business loans. And the fund has already helped over 2 million people– between our fund and the microfinance matching funds from their partners– be able to do home improvements. Most of the funds are going to a very low-income family that might allow them to put a proper roof on their house for the first time, or have a cement floor instead of a dirt floor, or expand their house, so that the girls and boys can be separated. And they could run a small retail or business out of their expanded home. Or to get water and sanitation for the first time. We might actually then make multiple loans to that family over time, and our goal is to get them to a point where they would have a house that meets all the criteria for safe, decent, affordable housing.
Denver: I’ve noticed that Habitat has been more engaged in recent years in advocacy efforts to remove some of the barriers to affordable housing, which we’ve touched on a while ago. That’s both here in the United States and around the world. What are some of those efforts?
Jonathan: We realize that advocacy was a core principle, but we weren’t doing enough about it. And our view is: to really solve housing, we have to address housing policy. I’ll give you a couple of examples that can make this real. One of my favorite stories actually is in Bolivia where we have worked for decades. In Bolivia, women didn’t have the right to own property. If you think about all the implications of that with divorce or abuse or inheritance and/or lack of just being able to have an asset to access the financial markets. So, through a five-year effort from an amazing group of women that we trained in Bolivia, they not only were able to get their own rights to have title to their homes, they got the federal law changed.
So, if a man who owned his home or land wanted to register it and was married, it had to be joint titled. That immediately changed the enabling environment from 1.8 million women who suddenly could become homeowners, so we wouldn’t count that in our first primary metrics until they actually got their titles. But that would be a shining example of improving the enabling environment that allows more people to invest in their housing.
A different example, very local in the US, which would be changing the zoning law to allow more affordable housing to get built or supporting a… one of our big priorities is to have more mixed income, mixed use housing because we think over time, the data is really clear; actually that creates the best outcomes for everyone in the community, versus concentrated property.
Our work couldn’t happen without partners. That’s really partners with the local, the state, the national, and the global level. It is remarkable, the difference they’ve been able to make.
We, of course, still need houses funded and that direct work funded every year, but it’s been very powerful where we’ve had strategic partners that have made long-term commitments.
Denver: Habitat has been blessed with a wonderful array of partners; corporate, media, faith, community partners, as well as some private philanthropists. Share with us what a few of those have done for the organization.
Jonathan: Our work couldn’t happen without partners. That’s really partners with the local, the state, the national, and the global level. It is remarkable, the difference they’ve been able to make. I can give just a couple of examples, really powerful. We partner with an insurance company called Thrivent Financial. Thrivent has invested now over $200 million in Habitat’s mission. Really, with a joint strategy, their mission is to help people be more wise and generous, and it aligns really well with Habitat’s mission.
So, that has touched in lots of ways, but they have come out and engaged in local communities both in the US and internationally. In a way, that’s been good for Habitat, and interestingly good for them as well. They actually found that if their sales people took their clients on international build trips with Habitat, that actually made them much more loyal to Thrivent, but also of course introduced them and gave them a very powerful transformational experience with Habitat.
We actually run a hundred of those trips a year just with them to countries around the world with our Global Village Program. Another example on an individual level. One of our great champions has been a man named, Ron Terwilliger, who has invested deeply in supporting our advocacy program, and he actually did the initial underwriting to create our Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter. Under that, we’re doing our housing micromanage work. We have a Shelter Venture Fund where we’re investing in entrepreneurs that have come up with better housing products for low-income families. Ron has really been a strategic investor in building the capacity for us to help exponentially more people. We, of course, still need houses funded and that direct work funded every year, but it’s been very powerful where we’ve had strategic partners that have made long-term commitments.
…if you can get great people, they will attract more great people. Then we can build a culture. But it’s something that’s always a work in process. I don’t think you ever arrive.
Denver: He’s provided something like $100 million or so. It’s been absolutely fantastic.
Let me ask you about the organization itself and specifically, the workplace culture. As the CEO, how do you think about the corporate culture of Habitat? And what things do you do intentionally to help shape and influence that culture?
Jonathan: Culture is really about mindsets and behaviors. The good news is– which wouldn’t surprise you– the kind of people who are attracted to Habitat are unbelievably mission-minded. So, we are off-the-charts in terms of the mission-driven side of it. But then how do you actually get them all to align and work together in our complex Habitat federation? What we really focus on ties mostly around servant leadership capability. How do we, in the way that we serve, in the way that we collaborate, we really focus on a handful of core values that we want to go deep on. Collaboration is built into everything we do. We really want to do everything through partnership because to do something as complex as housing takes the public sector, private sector, and civil society working together.
Much as we talked about neighbor revitalization work, obviously, hiring the right people; one of our big challenges is of course, we don’t pay as well as some places. You could make more in the private sector, so we’re looking for people that have that deep sense of mission commitment and really want to come and have impact and are looking for more of a total reward versus just financial reward in their mission. Because of the visibility and the strength of the brand, we’ve also been blessed by remarkably talented people who do want to come and be part of this infectious mission. We were thrilled last year and totally surprised to be recognized by Indeed.com as the best place to work and volunteer in America. Hopefully, that reinforces; if you can get great people, they will attract more great people. Then we can build a culture. But it’s something that’s always a work in process. I don’t think you ever arrive.
How do we actually educate people…
… our volunteer programs actually are so important because it starts to create empathy and understanding and relationship. So, it’s not “those people.” It becomes individual people who have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We need to break down those barriers in a way that is more welcoming to building mixed-income communities.
Denver: No. Absolutely. When you get happy with the status quo, you are going to go backwards. There’s no question about it.
Habitat has been at this work now for over 40 years, and I’m sure you’re always tweaking the model to make it more effective and more meaningful and better. What are some of your current challenges and things you’re looking to improve upon?
Jonathan: The first challenge actually goes back to where we started the conversation is: can we get housing higher on the public agenda? I think in the US, it’s interesting. It’s actually gotten so bad, we have a big enough crisis now that the Council of Mayors– the first time that I’m aware– said affordable housing was the number one issue in our country, which means at least, finally, there may be more room.
First, it’s the challenge of making the connection of why housing should be a high priority for people’s time, energy, and investment. I think second is, even people who are generically supportive of housing often get less supportive when it’s in their community. How do we actually educate people? And it’s why our volunteer programs actually are so important because it starts to create empathy and understanding and relationship. So, it’s not “those people.” It becomes individual people who have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations. So, we need to break down those barriers in a way that is more welcoming to building mixed-income communities. Because the inequality data is quite clear that children who grew up in concentrated poverty have very little social mobility… which turns out to be bad for everyone.
Whereas low-income children who grew up in mixed-income communities actually have very high social mobility because they’re given a chance. I think Habitat is all about that hand up, not hand out, or creating that opportunity. But how do we broaden that conversation to reach more people? And how do we do that? That goes to more advocacy, but it continues to be a challenge. I would say in terms of constraint, like most nonprofits, it’s a chicken and egg; we always need more money, and we always need stronger leadership. It you have more money, it’s easy to get more leaders. If you have great leaders, they can get more money. But we are always trying to build better and deeper leadership in all of the places that we work and continue to attract really high- capacity leaders in a now very competitive work space. It is an ongoing challenge for us.
Denver: That too will always be a work in progress.
Let me close with this Jonathan. Habitat is a self-described Christian housing ministry, and after stints on Wall Street and with several major corporations, you were the executive pastor of a church when the call came about this job. What is the role of faith in the work of Habitat for Humanity? And how does it inform your leadership of the organization?
Jonathan: I think faith has always been central to Habitat’s work in terms of the motivation. If you look at our mission statement, the first part of the mission statement is about God’s love in action. We’re not a church or religious organization. We’re a service organization, but the motivation behind that is really to be a demonstration of God’s love to all God’s people regardless of their background or their personal belief.
The center of our mission statement is that we bring people together. I think one of the beautiful things that pulled me to Habitat is the way that it does actually break down barriers. We were joking before, but around the world, the first Habitat in Africa was built in a no-man’s land between warring tribes. We’ve been pioneers, whether it’s in Northern Ireland, between Catholics and Protestants; South Africa, between blacks and whites; Egypt, between Christians and Muslims; we’ve been all about lowering barriers.
One of my heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu sponsored a build every year for many years in South Africa with us, and he said, “If the physical walls of the home go up, the invisible walls that separate us as people come tumbling down, and hope is built in the community.” To me, that’s such a beautiful picture of what faith in action should look like in our increasingly polarized world. One of the informal phrases we use internally is, “God is our center, but not our border.” That we are motivated by our faith but joyfully welcome everyone, and want to live in that tension of being radically inclusive and not giving up that central motivation. But we recognize that we have many Habitat supporters for whom that’s not their primary motivation. But that’s Habitat’s organizational motivation.
Denver: Well Stated. Jonathan Reckford, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. How does someone become involved as a volunteer, maybe to contribute, maybe to find where some of these ReStores are?
Jonathan: We would love it. The simplest way is just go to habitat.org. There’s a whole section on Get Involved, and you can quickly do a search and find your local Habitat organization. You can find your local ReStore, and you can find ways to get involved and volunteer. I would just say, please come join us. I can’t tell you how many volunteers have come up and thanked me for the opportunity to come out and really experience the kind of community that we all want to be a part of, but too rarely feel. And I think that’s been the secret sauce that has made Habitat an enduring mission.
Denver: Let me thank you, Jonathan. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.
Jonathan: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.