A Mid-West Gathering
Returning home to Toronto last Friday from my trip to Bowling Green, Ohio, I was excited to have had the opportunity to share and learn with a group of sister furniture banks. We gathered for what I suspect will be the first of an annual regional meeting of furniture banks in and around the midwest area. Inspired and organized by Rob Boyle of Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan. Big thanks also to Don Slobodien from Benbrook Associates, who sponsored the event.
Over 10,000 Families per year supported!
As we did our morning introductions, I was amazed that this small gathering of staff and volunteers represented organizations which, in our combined communities, support over 10,000 families annually:
- Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan
- Cleveland Furniture Bank
- Furniture Bank of Central Ohio
- New Life Furniture Bank (Greater Cincinnati)
- Compassion Furniture Bank of Fairfield & Pickaway counties (Ohio)
- Hope Now Furniture Bank of Knox County
- Milwaukee Furniture Bank
- Furniture Bank Toronto
We also had two advisors to the sector join us:
What Did We Discuss?
Huge thanks to everyone for taking the time to come together to share their experiences. Some of the themes discussed included:
- What is replacing FBANA?
- Fundraising: What’s working and what’s not?
- The joys of operating trucking & moving ‘companies’
- Client & donor scheduling: Are you in the 21st century?
- IT Systems
- Let’s talk Social Enterprise: Successes & Opportunities
With regards to the topic of “Where is FBANA?”, I want to take a moment to share the answer I provided. The idea of a coordinating association isn’t a new one. The furniture bank sector has had different versions operating for many years, each coordinated through different structures and different people. Since the last event hosted in 2014, we’ve been without a coordinating group. While a few Executive Directors from various furniture banks have tried to move the idea forward in 2016, we just couldn’t sustain the scope of the project. We each operate our own furniture banks, with limited time and even more limited resources. The old vision of FBANA was to formally set up a separate entity with its own budgets, staff, and board of directors. When we discussed this same theme in January at the West Coast Community gathering – we all agreed that we want to foster a community that works to gather, share and support the development of the furniture bank sector. For each of us, that looks different based on where we are in our life cycle.
- Some are thinking about a new furniture bank – like Amy from Milwaukee.
- Others are small volunteer-run organizations – like Tammy and Seth Myers of Compassion Furniture Bank
- Others still are adding and innovating new social enterprises – like John and Kevin of Furniture Bank of Central Ohio
In the case of my organization (Furniture Bank of Toronto), we got Board approval to move forward with allocating a portion of staff time and limited travel, to foster this ‘communicate & cooperate’ network. Both groups in January and April highlighted that, at this stage, COMMUNICATING and COOPERATING, are of most importance to most of us.
Using a framework called the Collaboration Continuum, with the support of Furniture Link Inc. and other funders this online community is going to focus on these two areas of collaboration. We’ve started in the last 90 days a small online forum here at Furniture Link. If you have not already joined the Community, please click HERE to join. It’s free and it is intended to be a permanent place for ALL furniture banks – big, small, new and old – to discuss, collect and share information on how to best to run a furniture bank in our own community.
Will there be coordination and collaboration by all North America’s furniture banks? I think the answer – the honest answer – is “maybe”. We need to work together in small ways and show value to one another before more complex coordination among us might be possible.
Thanks again to Rob, Tom, Tammy, Seth, Art, Kevin, Dana, Jill, John, Amy. Don, Matt, Amy, and Tammy P for coming together last week.