Helping the helpers: Funding shortage leaves programming in jeopardy


GREENFIELD — Norma Gibson didn’t know where to turn.

Her husband lost his construction job. Then, they lost their home. At one point, they stayed in a rental home for two weeks with no water or electricity.

They lived in the dark.

Gibson began calling area churches for help, then found Love INC, where she signed up for a financial mentoring program, Hearts of Hope.

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A year after completing the program, Gibson owns her own business, and her family is on its way to owning a home again. She has signed on as a mentor, so she can help others find the light, like she did.

But Love INC, which partners with more than half the county’s 104 churches, could be forced to discontinue its educational programs, citing a funding shortage.

Donations to Love In the Name of Christ of Greater Hancock County, a nonprofit that connects people in need to area resources, are down by almost half this year, said board of directors chair Keely Butrum. Additionally, a recent fundraiser brought in less than a fourth of what organizers expected.

In 2016, the organization, which has four paid staff members, brought in about $6,000 monthly from grants, donations and business partnerships, she said. So far this year, that has dropped to $3,005 per month.

Lackluster results from 2017 fundraising efforts have also concerned Love INC leaders, Butrum said.

The third annual Love Thy Neighbor banquet in February, expected to bring in $13,000, garnered only about $3,200, she said.

To make up the funding shortage, Love INC leaders are considering suspending their transformational ministries programming.

The clearinghouse fielded some 1,400 calls last year, and connected 1,000 of those calls to a church that could help, Ferguson said. The transformational ministries program means to address the underlying causes of those needs — joblessness and poor money management among them. Classes include résumé-writing, job skills training, budgeting, low-cost cooking and more.

About $18,000 of the nonprofit’s $150,000 annual operating budget is dedicated to those educational efforts, Butrum said. That $18,000 includes the salary of a part-time employee who coordinates rental space, speakers, mentors and materials, she said. About $1,200 goes toward educating staff, added treasurer Tom Ferguson.

The educational programs typically help 60 to 80 people per year, said Karla Whisenand, executive director. The Love INC-sponsored job fair has drawn more than 100 job-seekers in the last two years as well, she said.

The first step, if the organization’s donations remain below budget, will be to cut the hours of Love INC’s paid employees, Butrum said.

Gibson said she believes programs like Hearts of Hope have the potential to improve the lives of people who learn the lessons. After all, the monthly lessons helped her to be more self-sufficient.

She’s said she’s sad to hear the educational programming that changed her life might not be available for others, she said.

“I feel like it would be a disappointment to a lot of people it would help,” she said. “(Hearts of Hope) seems like a little thing, but it was a huge help to me.”

The nonprofit, which meets needs ranging from clothing to transportation, already takes steps to keep costs low, like printing brochures in house instead of paying to have them printed, she said.

“Putting a hold on our transformational ministries program would be our only option,” Butrum said. “There’s not a lot of room to trim the fat.”

To help bridge the gaps, Love INC leaders have been spreading the word about the organization’s needs through a letter and email campaign. They have also planned a new fundraiser — a 5K race set for Sept. 9, Whisenand said.

Five local businesses have responded to the campaign so far, providing a total of about $1,500 in one-time donations, Butrum said.

Nonprofit leaders know church budgets are tight, and that has in part spurred them to seek more funding from businesses and individuals instead, said Jim Peters, former executive director who still works closely with the organization.

The organization’s leaders remain hopeful the community will help them reach their funding goals, Ferguson said.

“Hancock County is a very philanthropic and giving community,” he said. “We’ve been very blessed over the years. Looking at our needs and the finite amount of funding available, we have to be more aggressive in funding our mission. I think that’s the bottom line.”

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Love In the Name of Christ of Greater Hancock County, a faith-based clearinghouse that connects churches with people in need, aims to find 150 county residents to pledge $25 a month for a year.

Your pledge supports the transformational ministries program, which provides:

  • Job fairs
  • Cooking classes
  • One-on-one mentoring
  • Job skills training

To donate, visit or contact the organization at 317-468-6300.