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Jeff Rutt finds success applying business principles to charity

Although he started two nonprofits, it would not be inaccurate to say that everything Jeff Rutt does is business-centered.

That’s because he’s convinced it’s the best way to help people.

“We call ourselves the uncharity,” Rutt says. “Instead of giving gifts, we focus on going alongside people.”

Rutt didn’t always see things that way. He used to be involved in many traditional short-term missions efforts. Then, on one trip to Ukraine not long after he started his homebuilding business, Keystone Custom Homes Inc., a leader there told him the gifts weren’t really helping. His local congregation had been sending containers of food and medical supplies to a church there.

“It was what I call today ‘toxic charity,'” Rutt says. Then he recites a five-step progression from the book by that name illustrating what handouts can foster in recipients: Appreciation, anticipation, expectation, entitlement and, finally, dependency.

Trying to find a better ministry model, Rutt discovered the concept of microfinance and, before long, Hope International was born.

“We started very small. My initial vision was to take the container project and turn it into a way that was not creating dependency and entitlement,” Rutt said. “What we realized was, this was a really good idea, and thousands of people were very interested in the opportunity.”

That interest, in turn, led to the creation of Homes for Hope, a sister nonprofit that raises funds by organizing businesses in the construction community to build a home on a largely pro bono basis, then sell it and donate the proceeds.

“He reached out to some of his competitors right there in Pennsylvania who joined with him,” says Jack Nulty, who is now executive director of Homes for Hope. “It’s become the building industry’s answer to global poverty. There are several things that they love about it. One of the key things is that they can do what they do best, which is build homes, and then turn around and use that to fund microloans that help people do what they do best, to provide for their families.”

“It’s not like I laid this out as a strategic plan of some kind,” Rutt says. “It was one foot in front of the other, step by step, just saying, ‘OK, that worked.'”

Rutt also emphasizes that bringing good people into the organizations has been pivotal to their successes. For example, he says, Hope International would not be where it is today if Peter Greer, its president and CEO, had not come on board in 2004 with an extensive microfinance background and passion for the cause. And Larry Wisdom has been president of Keystone Custom Homes since 2007.

Heather Stauffer

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