Jason Miles, Sew Powerful co-founder and Jan Cancila, Sew Powerful Director of Global Volunteerism explore what it means for Sew Powerful to be an all-volunteer organization. Jason leads us through scripture to understand how 'tent-making' supports this model while Jan points out how volunteering has touched her life and the lives of others in the organization. The conversation includes examples of how God has prepared us with talents and vocational experiences that we can bring to the ministry. Are you a retiree looking for ways to apply your experiences that will really make a difference? We would love to hear from you.
Why Sew Powerful is an All-Volunteer Organization with Jason Miles
IN THIS EPISODE
Sew Powerful volunteers, Apostle Paul, tent making, low overhead, baby-boomers, retirees, vocational experiences, Mother Theresa, vow of poverty, unpaid staff, Zambia, purse makers, The Coca-Cola Company, Boeing
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
Acts 17, 18, 19, 20; Romans 1; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity, https://motherteresa.org/
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Hello, Jason, how are you today?
Jason Miles, Guest 00:21
Great, how are you?
Today we are going to talk about volunteerism. And this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I serve as the Director of Global Volunteerism for Sew Powerful and implement the the vision and the model that we've set out here for Sew Powerful. So, I'd really like to break that down and have our listeners understand what the Sew Powerful volunteer model is all about. We are an all-volunteer organization. There are no paid staff in the US. Is that correct?
That's right. Yep.
Yeah. So tell us why do we have this model? Isn't that different than a lot of Christian ministries and NGOs?
Yeah, yeah, it really is. And I think the more we've grown as an organization, the more we become comfortable with our weirdness. This unique model we're working in, it's sort of not popular to be candid. But we love it. And it's definitely God's call on our life. And I think it's an expression of ministry that is sort of different than many big charities or just charities. And it is important for our donors and our volunteers to understand sort of the differences between what we do and what other charities typically do. Yeah.
So we have a very low overhead. There are a little teeny bit of expenses that come out of the donations, but what, can you tell us, you know, what are those numbers?
Yeah, sure. Yeah, our overhead rate, this last formal reporting period, was 2.9%. of our total program.
As a point of reference, how does that compare?
Yeah, most charities would operate within probably on the most frugal, and what you might call financially structured, sophisticated charities, maybe as low as 12%. Now, there are some charities that have a massive food commodity programs that don't receive cash and don't spend cash because they have massive food grants that they count as is a donation. And those sometimes have really low like maybe 4% overhead rates. But generally speaking, it's 12 to 18% would be very, very good. Many charities operate with 18 to 25% overhead rate. And you can go look at any charities 990 now legally. They document the results. You can look at the first page and just look at salary administration line. I don't remember the line item on the 990. But it's on the first page. And you can look at that compared to the top total income and just do the math. And a lot of charities do shenanigans to kind of obfuscate or hide those numbers to be blunt. And I I have a graduate degree in international nonprofit management. It is technically an MBA, but with the emphasis is international nonprofit management. And I worked in nonprofit as a paid employee for 20 years, or longer than that actually. I was the Human Resources Senior VP for years and was a longtime HR guy and a longtime fundraising guy. So, I understand models from normal charities that employ people. And the employment of staff in the US is generally overhead if you're an international nonprofit. And generally speaking, that's the largest line item in your administrative costs. So when God really tapped us on the shoulder and said, You're supposed to help these ladies in Ngombe compound, it was Cinnamon and I just doing it out of our checkbook for the first six months. And then we started thinking through how could we set it up as a charity. And for the first four years, we were just doing it by ourselves with an occasional donation. We didn't have any team members, we didn't have any volunteers or paid staff; it was just us. But as we started to get to the point where we wanted to grow, we really started to lean into our own personal conviction and calling to be volunteers for the organization, we consider ourselves tentmakers
Wait, you've used that term a lot. And I'm going to ask you to explain it so
Go on, but hold that thought.
Yeah. So you know, as we just started to say to people who wanted to help us and Leslie Unruh locally, here was our first volunteer. She was a longtime Boeing employee at like 32 years or something like that. And she reached out and said, I love your program. I make purses. I would like to become a volunteer. I'm retiring from Boeing. And I said to her, we don't have volunteers. Like, I didn't know what to do with that inquiry because neither were we a paid staff organization or even a volunteer organization. We were just the fundraisers, and program coordinators helping with this work in Zambia. And so, you know, I said to her, why don't we meet up and chat about what you would like to do. And she became our first volunteer. And she's now the Regional Coordinator for the greater Seattle area, and
No, for the state of Washington.
Oh, state. Yes. Okay. Sorry. Yeah. And so, she was the first and she helped us sort out what what are you going to do, and I realized immediately this is God's leading. This is the the way we're supposed to grow is through asking people to volunteer their time. Now, as it happens, I also believe that there's a huge opportunity with recent retirees, and the baby boom wave of retirees, and so many people, Jan, yourself included, just has splendid vocational careers, and have these backgrounds of doing amazing things. And then now retired. So, I mean, you could speak to that from your own perspective. But as I was seeing it, I was thinking to myself, is this God's leading for us to work with people as volunteers, rather than paid staff in the US? And, and see if we can't build a program that does have exceedingly low overhead. And that's what we're doing.
Well, and you know, you alluded to we baby boomers, but sometimes we get a bad rap for being baby boomers. But there's a lot of us.
And we've asked our volunteers to take a survey, and we ask about their career experience. And we have people with amazing backgrounds through education and work and other hobbies or other places, they may have volunteered. And, you know, many people are attracted to Sew Powerful at first, because they know how to sew, they can make a purse. It's a very, it's a very fulfilling way to volunteer. But this ministry has many, many wheels turning and could use a lot of hands doing many things. Is that right?
Absolutely. We need a lot of help. I mean, you know, as we started to scale, you realize, Oh, man, I mean, this is this is getting big and real. And we need a ton of volunteers to step in. We need people to use their skill sets or vocational skill sets to come and help us grow this ministry. Yeah,
right. Well, and so we have a lot of retired teachers, and they obviously know about training. And you know, we could be training each other or training staff there in Zambia. But we have people with administrative skills, legal skills, logistics, purchasing, and marketing, web development. I mean, you know, the list just goes on and on. And we have few people wearing many hats, it would be fantastic. We could really scale if we had many people wearing those many hats.
And we are. We do have people helping us in countries around the world as purse collectors. And we have 1000 purses from the UK this year come in. And Sandy's our purse collector there. And we have purse collectors in Brazil and Australia and Canada. And so, people around the world are stepping in. The question is in a how do they help and participate in purse making it easy on ramp, but we hope it's not the end of the road?
Right? Right. Right.
You know, we would love to have people step into further use of their vocational skills and ministry work. Yeah.
Well, and you know, you can you can do both. So that's, that's fantastic. You mentioned a moment ago, tent making, and you've used the term before. Could you explain that to us, please?
Sure. It comes from the phrase from the Apostle Paul, in Acts. You could start reading in chapter 17, and 18 to 19 and 20. And in chapter 20, he really distinguishes the model of ministry that he set up, which is he has a marketplace, vocational trade skill, tent making, literally making real tents. And he used that vocation to fund his ministry and his ministry is defined by him in Romans 1, which is he was an apostle. So, he had two things, he was juggling: this tent making business which he defines, at one point saying it also funds his coworkers, his colleagues in ministry. So, he had a business; I would assume he was the boss, given given who he was, but he had built a company in today's parlance, and it employed people and then they were all a ministry team together. And he did that specifically and he talks about it in different passages so that there was no burden financially on the young congregations that was starting to form. He did it so that he could be a model he says, for people in leadership, to serve without financial burden. You know, I started my career as a compensation analyst for World Vision. I was there for 16 years. I understand pay practices. I also am totally enamored with Mother Teresa's model of taking a vow of poverty. I'm not called to do that I'm pretty sure.
consulted, consulted with Cinnamon, and we are not called to take a vow of poverty. But I love the ministry model that Mother Teresa did. You know, she was a schoolteacher. And she walked for 12 years past a local slum. And she prayed for it every morning and every evening. And then she just felt this conviction to go in. And she was a Catholic priest. And she asked the Vatican if she could serve in the slum, and they said, No. They said, Pray about it for a year and if you're still interested in the idea, come back a year later. She came back a year later and she said Can I serve in a slum? And they said, okay. So, she walked into that slum with five rupees, and a bar of soap. That was what she had. And she took a vow of poverty, to serve there. And the Missionaries of Charity, that group organization is about 4500 people now who are working under that system. And I'm just mesmerized by that. It's something that you have to say, is admirable, is beautiful, and their willingness to live amongst the poor, and to serve Jesus, because He is there, is powerful. And so, you know, I have all these ideas swirling in my mind. But when I saw the Apostle Paul's model, and I had my own reflections, I just asked the question, how should we do this ministry? And Cinnamon and I, as a separate issue, had started selling on eBay in 2007, 2008, and build an E-commerce company. So, by January 1, 2014, we were financially set with our E-commerce company, business, enough to live off of. I mean, you know, we're not rich or anything, but we've made our living from E-commerce. And that allows us to have our calling and ministry, in Sew Powerful be completely free to Sew Powerful financially. And that's the tentmaker model we've employed. So, it's two parts there's one is the vocational money, part of how you're making your living. The other is your ministry or calling. And that's it. That's what tent making is, in my view. And I would say that anyone who's volunteering for us who has a pension, or is you know, retiree, that's just you know, got their finances sorted out because of your long work life career. They are tent makers too, whether they think they are not, they have their their money sorted, and they have a ministry and calling. So, there you go. We need to start a movement to make tent making popular again, or something like that, because I do feel like it unlocks a lot of creative opportunities for us to minister without money, being the object. And Paul even says this in the New Testament. He says, I never wanted to be perceived as a peddler of this new way of this new gospel. And I you know, for me, I was a major gift fundraiser, I was in charge of this stuff at big charities, a university and a big nonprofit. And I don't want to be perceived as peddling poverty for my own gain. And it just, it just doesn't suit me it doesn't feel right, you know. And so, for me, this feels right. It feels right for me to show up every morning at 5am and work in E-commerce. And then switch into helping with Sew Powerful and running it, as well. And that's the passion of our heart and life and, and we believe God's calling people who are like minded to serve with us.
Well, and you know, we've heard from so many of our volunteers that that volunteering for Sew Powerful, they started doing it because they felt like they would be helping others. But they've been surprised by how much the volunteerism has meant to them and has changed their life. And I'm going to mention one of our volunteers, Shirley Utz, who many people knew. Shirley fought a long courageous battle with cancer and succumbed this week. And there are so many tributes to her because of her kindness, and we've all formed friendships through this and have role models and it's just been such a meaningful experience for me to know people and to have those kind of ideals played out every single day and it's just been the joy of my life. I expected to be retired maybe traveling a little bit and fooling around my little garden. I tried to grow tomato plants this year, and I think I got one, one tomato but you know, that's how I sort of envisioned it. And then I stumbled onto Sew Powerful and I feel so fulfilled personally as a gift to myself, but you know, I feel like it's so rewarding to be able to use my God given talents and skills. And I can sew purses, but I'll be honest with you, I'm not that great of a seamstress. And so I have to use the talents that that God has given me.
Well, and for those who haven't heard your backstory, how long were you, you know, at Coca-Cola doing project management?
Yeah. So, you know, God had prepared you
in advance for the work that you're doing.
And to me, I'm just like, I mean, can you imagine, okay, wait, just think for a minute, if you were four or five years or six years earlier in your career, and here I was as a charity, and I said, I really need a super awesome project manager, somebody from a company that's like crazy awesome. Like, could we find a project manager of project managers and executive in it from like Coca-Cola? How much would I have to pay? And how can I get that person to even care about my tiny little ministry in Zambia, and it never would have happened. And here we are, because God's leading and unlocking of this idea of tent making, where we, we set the money apart. Just forget about the financial related stuff, and just say, what is God called us to do? How can we work together for His kingdom and His glory? And there you are, with this amazing skill set now leading globally, all the volunteers around the world for us. And to me, that's just a God story. It's amazing, you know.
Yeah, I felt like if this was like, the logical next step, so
and realize I could never work with you in a million years, if it was a paid transactional thing. I could, we couldn't have ever afford to do it. But you wouldn't if you were so far outside our stratosphere. You know what I'm saying on that side of it. It's just
But not, not just not not just me. I mean, there's many, many people. And you know, I've had the opportunity to interview a lot of our volunteers and the backstories are just amazing. And I interviewed one of our chapter leaders' daughters. Her name is Katherine Winchell is the person I interviewed. And she was doing a fundraiser and the proceeds going to Sew Powerful. And in the interview, I casually said in what is your career when you're not doing volunteer work? She operates the camera on the land rover on Mars. I mean, they're amazing people that are in our stratosphere.
That is outrageous.
Yeah. So anyway,
I want to mention a few verses and Bible passages.
for people to, to look at as well, if they're interested in thinking through these ideas. I yeah, I mentioned Acts 17, 18 and 19, 20, related to the marketplace, ministries of Paul, and the tent making. Also, I'll just point out as a sort of side commentary, my personal life's mission is defined by Acts 17:6. That's a whole different story that will take more time to tell but remind me that in a future episode, I'll talk about that but, but there are other chapters and passages in the New Testament that are really exciting to think about: Romans chapter 12, Present your bodies a living sacrifice. First Corinthians chapter 12 is talking about the different types of gifts that Christ gives to the body. Romans chapter 1 talks about Paul's personal calling, and clarity on that, and on and on Ephesians 4. So, these passages talk about people being called to serve in the body. And I'm just passionate about seeing that play out in, in Sew Powerful in our ministry and program. Yeah.
Well, Jason, thank you so much for talking about volunteerism with me as a subject near and dear to my heart and to yours, too. I know. So. Thank you so much and have a fantastic day.
All right. We'll talk to you soon. Bye. Bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.SewPowerful.org That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.