Turning a Profit for a Nonprofit

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Turning a Profit for a Nonprofit

Nathan Pinkerton is director of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore operations in the Valley. (VBR)
Nathan Pinkerton is director of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore operations in the Valley. (VBR)

A deciding factor for many people who give to nonprofit organizations is how much of their donation will go to administrative costs, because they want to know their money goes directly to fund charitable works. The answer to that question for the Rio Grande Valley affiliate of Habitat for Humanity is zero.

The reason behind that is the success of Habitat for Humanity ReStore retail outlets in McAllen and Harlingen that generate enough cash flow to cover those costs, allowing monetary donations to Habitat for Humanity to be used to support the organization’s “mission to help people afford a home they couldn’t otherwise afford,” said Nathan Pinkerton, director of ReStore operations in the Valley.

“The revenue from the ReStores covers all administration costs, including salaries,” he said. “One hundred percent of donated money goes to the mission. We turned that corner last year and we are very proud of that.”

High-end furniture, such as this oriental design table and chairs, is sometimes available at ReStores. (VBR)
High-end furniture, such as this oriental design table and chairs, is sometimes available at ReStores. (VBR)

The Habitat for Humanity ReStores offer a wide variety of new and used merchandise, ranging anywhere from small tools and kitchen utensils to clothing to home décor items to furniture and beyond. And since the inventory is donated it can change frequently. “You never know what’s going to be here,” Pinkerton said. “We like to say that if you miss a day you miss a deal.”

As an example, recently a piece of new outdoor furniture with a retail value of more than $1,500 sold for $300. It was part of three semi-truckloads that recently arrived. “One hundred truckloads were donated to the national Habitat for Humanity and we managed to get three of them,” Pinkerton said. “I have asked for another four truckloads.”

Most of the ReStore merchandise comes from local donations by individuals and businesses. When the Doubletree Hotel in McAllen was renovated, management donated dozens of mirrors, desks and other hotel room furnishings. Contractors often make donations when they have extra floor tiles, carpet, home hardware and even lumber. Remodeling jobs can provide windows, doors, bath tubs and other used items that are still in good shape.

The McAllen ReStore warehouse area holds large items, building supplies and other merchandise. (VBR)
The McAllen ReStore warehouse area holds large items, building supplies and other merchandise. (VBR)

And that can become a two-way street. Pinkerton said that since the ReStores frequently have merchandise like door knobs, plumbing fixtures and flooring, contractors become customers. “Some contractors will buy from me instead of paying retail. Then they may be more interested in donating,” he said. “A lot of it is building relationships in the community.”

At times the merchandise can be surprising for what many might call a thrift store. Pinkerton said the Harlingen ReStore has received and sold new motorcycles with brand names like Harley-Davidson, Victory and Ice Bear, a Chinese-made bike.

At the McAllen ReStore not long ago a woman brought in stacks of books and board games. As Pinkerton helped her unload the donation, she mentioned she had something in the car trunk that probably was not of interest. She pulled out a large piece of decorative crystal with silver handles and elaborate scroll work. Of course, that piece made its way onto the ReStore shelves.

Once the old Loaves and Fishes building is renovated, it will become the new Harlingen ReStore. (VBR)
Once the old Loaves and Fishes building is renovated, it will become the new Harlingen ReStore. (VBR)

The Harlingen ReStore moved in January to a new location in the old Zarsky Lumber building on First Street near downtown. Across the street in the old Loaves and Fishes building renovation work is underway to house an even larger ReStore. With 20,000 square feet, that building will have 5,000 square feet of air-conditioned retail space with the remaining square footage turned into a warehouse where donated building supplies, large furniture and other items will be available for purchase.

Once that is complete the indoor space of the old Zarsky Lumber location will expand Habitat for Humanity community services. “There will be a training room where we will be offering financial literacy classes to help people become more financially independent,” Pinkerton said. Other training ideas are under development but Pinkerton said it’s too early to reveal some of those plans.

George Cox is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years experience as a newspaper writer and editor. A Corpus Christi native, he started his career as a reporter for The Brownsville Herald after graduating from Sam Houston State University with a degree in journalism. He later worked on newspapers in Laredo and Corpus Christi as well as northern California. George returned to the Valley in 1996 as editor of The Brownsville Herald and in 2001 moved to Harlingen as editor of the Valley Morning Star. He also held the position of editor and general manager for the Coastal Current, a weekly entertainment magazine with Valleywide distribution. George retired from full-time journalism in 2015 to work as a freelance writer and legal document editor. He continues to live in Harlingen where he and his wife Katherine co-founded Rio Grande Valley Therapy Pets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the benefits of therapy pets and assisting people and their pets to become registered therapy pet teams.

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