Wendell Mettey’s 5 TIPS for Entrepreneurs
 
AT MATTHEW 25: MINISTRIES, AN INTERNATIONAL MISSION GROWS WITH SOLID BUSINESS PRINCIPLES
1) Make sure there is a need before you try to fill it.
2) Start small. Start slow.
3) Don’t jump before you know where you are going to land.
4) Do your homework on what is already being done. Don’t assume you know.
5) Jump. You can only investigate so much. At some point it takes an element of faith.
Often when visitors first see the base of operations for Matthew 25: Ministries, they are amazed.

You’ve got a pretty good-sized business here, they’ll say, viewing the 132,000-square-foot warehouse on Kenwood Road in Blue Ash.

The Rev. Wendell Mettey, founder and president of the organization, laughs at this. For an organization that has grown to shipping more than 400 40-foot cargo containers of donated goods annually for disaster relief and humanitarian aid, you need a pretty good-sized business. And that is what M25M is: a business built on solid business principles, tempered by faith.

“The phrase I use is ‘Pay the light bill’,” says Mettey when talking about his organization and why it is successful. Yes, M25M is a not-for-profit organization, but there are more similarities than differences between it and a for-profit business operation.

“Because we are a charity, (suppliers) try to give us a good break, but at the end of the day, we are out there doing business as every other business is,” Mettey notes. That means watching the numbers.

“I think it is very important for a nonprofit to stay on top of its money,” Mettey explains. “Every week, from my CFO, I get a report on how much was donated, how much was spent and how much we have left. From my director of operations, I get a report that tells me how much product is coming in, how much is going out and how much we have in inventory.

“That’s pretty much how businesses do it.”

SPECIAL INGREDIENTS

Yet, there are things that set M25M and other nonprofits apart: donations and volunteers.

People may go into a business establishment and hand over a check, but they expect to walk out the door with goods or a service purchased in return.

“People don’t go into a Macy’s or a Kroger and make a donation,” Mettey remarks. “They don’t go in and write a check for $100. They will for a nonprofit. They will give us donations.”

People also don’t go to a business to volunteer.

“You just don’t show up one day at Kroger and say ‘I’ll bag groceries (as a volunteer)’,” he says. “But nonprofits rely on lots of people to do that.”

Volunteers carry out much of the work of M25M. On average, 400 of them show up each month to work. Last year, these volunteers clocked in approximately 15,000 hours.

“We have relied on volunteers from the beginning,” Mettey says. Indeed, at first M25M was an all-volunteer effort. But there came a point when that wasn’t enough. M25M uses a combination of both paid and non-paid positions, as most well-run nonprofits do.

“I think what we have here is a good blend,” he says. “We have staff that are covering strategic areas, but they are blended in with our volunteers.”

Those volunteers range from individuals who come in almost every day to those who contribute time once a month.

DIVINE FORCE


Faith in God is the driving force behind M25M, the only other difference Mettey sees between his organization and a typical business, or many other nonprofits. This is what moves his 17-member paid staff (both full and part time) to accept lower than average salaries.

“They tell me it’s because they want (their work) to make a difference (in the world).”

That, along with its strong cadre of volunteers, may explain why the more than 99 percent of M25M’s cash and in-kind donations go toward program support.

Mettey established M25M in 1992, two years after his first trip to Nicaragua while a senior pastor at Montgomery Community (then Baptist) Church. He had never seen such poverty, and returned home determined to do something to help. Initially, he hauled 70 pound suitcases of medical supplies back to Nicaragua. Last year, the organization distributed more than 10 million pounds of donated goods — food, clothing, and supplies for medical, personal care, cleaning and school — to those in need, whether they were in the Cincinnati area, elsewhere in the country or around the world.

The M25M slogan is: Caring for a needy world with things we throw away. In practice, that means collecting donations from corporations, hospitals and individuals, including new, returned, overstocked, slightly damaged, off-spec or other distressed products. Some comes in by the truckload. M25M sorts and re-packages these products for redistribution, shipping the items by truck (in the United States) and by ship for international deliveries.

The name of the organization comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25:34-40 (“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink ...”) Christians know the text to be a call to provide for those in need. The M25M vision, however, extends to providing people what they need today so they may move toward self-reliance tomorrow.

“We’re trying to work our way out of a job,” says Mettey. “We’re trying to make people self-sufficient.”

THE KINDNESS OF DONORS


As with any business, M25M is at the mercy of economic conditions, but not in the way one may think. “We have found that when things get tough financially, (our donors) don’t cut back,” Mettey says.

M25M has a core group of donors who are consistent with their giving, so the organization is somewhat sheltered from economic downturns. But M25M is still feeling pressure. “We are seeing our program needs growing — particularly for food,” he notes. “Our staff needs are growing. So we are trying to think of different ways to bring more revenue in to continue our work.”

Most likely that effort will draw from those whose skills match their passion for the mission of M25M. “Nonprofits have to recruit people who are not only passionate (about the mission), but who have the skills and knowledge to make the nonprofit a successful enterprise.”

Mettey himself qualifies on both counts. In college, he earned a degree in economics — and experienced a religious conversion that led him to seek employment in social work. With encouragement from his pastor, he entered a seminary and became a minister.

Like many entrepreneurs, Mettey realizes he has to attract and sustain the support of the right people for this business mission. As Mettey he sums it up, “We are successful because I can recognize successful people.”