Executives ‰’Glean‰’ Rewards from Leading, Giving Back through Nonprofit Board Service

12.19.2007 Article, General, School News

To hear Rick Peterson, serving on a nonprofit board isn’t something done in addition to his job. It basically is his job, and that’s just how Peterson wants it.

The president of the real estate development firm the Peterson Cos. shared his experience as board chairman of the nonprofit Gleaning for the World with students in the Fast-Track Executive MBA Program at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management. He was among four panelists featured during the discussion “Leading Forward and Giving Back” on Dec. 11.

Joining Peterson on the panel were Joe Budd, chief executive officer and president of the Budd Group; Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines; and Billy Prim, CEO of Primo Water Corp. and co-founder of Blue Rhino. They talked about how corporate executives can best serve the communities in which their companies operate.

Peterson focused on his board service with Gleaning for the World, describing his work in real estate development as something he did “over on the side.” He serves on the board with Babcock alumnus and Board of Visitors member S. Laing Hinson (’78 MBA, ’76 BA) of Alexandria, Va. The organization’s mission, Peterson said, is to fill in a logistical gap that exists among many in the nonprofit world.

“Most nonprofits do a very good job with the high-level work, like fundraising, and they’re good at the grassroots level,” he said. “Many of them don’t do so well in the middle ground of logistics.”

Gleaning for the World, based in Virginia, takes unused and overstocked materials from companies and distributes them to nonprofit groups, humanitarian projects and the needy around the world. It was founded by the Rev. Ron Davidson, who quit as pastor of a 1,200-member congregation to start the organization in 1998 in the basement of a house.

“He’s an entrepreneur in robes,” Peterson said of Davidson, who attended the event.

Typical materials donated to GFTW include medical and surgical supplies, over-the-counter medications, health and hygiene products, food and nutrition products, new clothing and shoes, and furniture. As of 2006, it had shipped more than $300 million in supplies to people in need – both in the U.S. and in more than 54 countries on five continents.

GFTW uses distribution channels and logistical support to connect corporate donors and mission groups at lower costs than might be possible otherwise.

For companies, giving to GFTW helps free up warehouse space, and save money on storage and landfill fees and incineration costs. The organization can take surplus inventory from companies and distribute items – often overseas – in ways that won’t negatively affect a company’s sales of the same or similar items, negating concerns about black- or gray-market products. GFTW also repackages the products, removing most liability concerns for companies.

A recent project facilitated by GFTW – involving a donation of eyeglasses – evolved from connections made through the Babcock School.

The project involved National Vision Inc., one of the nation’s largest optical companies, and the nonprofit group Partners in Restoring Vision and Improving Lives (PRVAIL).

Anna Purcell, National Vision’s provider relations manager and a student in Babcock’s Charlotte Saturday MBA Program, learned about GFTW from Aneil Mishra, associate professor of management at Babcock. Mishra introduced Purcell and her company’s CEO, Reade Fahs, to Davidson.

From there, Davidson worked out details of a donation with Fahs and Marc Sachs, director of PRVAIL, which sources and supplies reading glasses and sunglasses at no charge to missions in developing countries and to domestic groups serving the underprivileged. Fahs serves on PRVAIL’s board.

Working together, the groups routed 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses to a not-for-profit organization in Russia that uses doctors to match an individual’s prescription to a specific pair of donated eyewear.

“I’m thrilled,” Purcell said of how the project turned out. “So many people were involved in bringing this to fruition. I am pleased to have been a small part of making it possible.”

The panel discussion was one of the final experiences for working professional students who will complete the 17-month Fast-Track Executive Program this month.