Free Supplies for Churches?

How Churches Are Stretching their Budgets through Gifts-in-Kind Organizations

By Gary C. Smith

It’s a given that with budgets tighter than ever, churches need to be creative in doing more with less. Yet many dismiss one very real resource because they’re convinced there must be a catch. But it’s not too good to be true.

That resource is gifts-in-kind organizations. These organizations collect donations of new merchandise from U.S. corporations and redistribute it to its not-for-profit members, including churches and schools, for free.

Free materials, including office and art supplies, janitorial supplies and sporting goods. Plus, tools, toys, software, books and media, personal care items, party goods and more.

Churches can browse catalogs of donated supplies and request what they need, saving on supplies and limiting out-of-pocket costs for the church.

The Faith Baptist Church is located right near the highway in Spokane, Missouri. It is between Springfield and Branson. Pastor James Mohler said that people riding down the highway often just stop in to the church for help. And he is ready to offer some.

Since 2006, Faith Baptist has been a member of the gifts-in-kind organization, National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources (NAEIR). Pastor Mohler frequently scans the catalogs of merchandise looking for items that he can give folks in need who either happen by or are members of his church, school or missionary. Items as simple as cleaning supplies, writing paper, pens, pencils and crafts are deeply appreciated. Tools and clothing are a couple of his favorite offerings.

Mohler sometimes drives to the NAEIR warehouse in Galesburg, Illinois to pick up larger orders to save on shipping. He figures he serves over 1,000 people with free merchandise he would not otherwise be able to provide.

He said that it’s hard to put a dollar value on the donations he has received over the years, but one way he tried to do that was to say that one of his storage areas was broken into once and he estimated $20,000 of donated tools and supplies were stolen.

“I can do things I would never be able to do with help from our gifts-in-kind program. It’s a real blessing,” he said.

What’s the catch? There isn’t one. Typically, members pay a modest annual membership fee, plus nominal shipping and handling costs. That’s it. It ends up costing churches a fraction of what it would to purchase the same supplies through conventional channels.

Who’s doing the donating, and what’s in it for them? Major companies located across the country participate.

One benefit is that they’re supporting meaningful charitable causes. At the same time, they’re taking advantage of tax deductions, reducing storage costs, clearing warehouse space, and avoiding hassles with liquidators. And instead of clogging landfills, they’re putting unused goods to use.

Marcelyne Rousseau is the secretary/treasurer of Eben-Ezer SDA Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She mainly looks for donated clothes, shoes and personal care items to give to the needy in the community. In addition, she gets office supplies for the church as well as janitorial and maintenance items. School supplies are a popular item with the children in the area.

“We are able to provide much needed items and the program saves the church a lot of money,” Rousseau said.

The rules are simple. Participating organizations must agree to act in accordance with IRC section 170(e)(3), which states that merchandise must be used for the care of the ill, needy or minors. It cannot be bartered, traded or sold. The merchandise can be given directly to qualifying individuals served by an organization or used in the administration of the organization.

Savvy churches and schools nationwide are taking advantage of this service to stretch their budgets.

In these days of slashed funding and shrinking budgets, the question isn’t if gifts-in-kind organizations are too good to be true. The question is: if your church hasn’t explored this option yet, what are you waiting for?


Gary C. Smith is the president and CEO of the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources (NAEIR), the oldest, largest gifts-in-kind organization in the U.S. NAEIR receives donations of excess inventory from American corporations and distributes the material to a membership base of more than 13,000 charities. It has collected and redistributed more than $3 billion worth of new, donated supplies and equipment since its founding in 1977. On average, NAEIR members acquire more than $18,000 worth of free products per year for their organizations.

For more information, churches can call 1-800-562-0955 or visit NAEIR’s website at www.naeir.org

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