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Sunday, Dec 16, 2018
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Nonprofit’s founder meets need for free software

TAMPA - Jim Morgan was living the fast life 12 years ago, charging banks $470 an hour for consulting advice and traveling four days a week, when he dreamed up his worst business idea. He would develop a software program that would help churches run their food banks and toy drives more efficiently. He would give away his product for free. “Who else is going to spend 10 years and spend millions to make this software to give it away?” said Morgan, 47. “It’s one of the worst business ideas you could ever think of.”
But it also may be his most personally rewarding idea. Twelve years later, his Tampa-based nonprofit, Meet the Need, helps coordinate the volunteer and charitable operations of about 800 churches and nonprofit groups nationwide. For example, Meet the Need’s Internet software helps recruit and schedule bell ringers for the Salvation Army and volunteer laborers for Habitat for Humanity. “If you can shop online for things you want to buy, why can’t you shop online for people who need what you have to give?” he said. Meet the Need may have the lowest profile of any Bay-area nonprofit because its work is done inside computer servers instead of in soup kitchens or homeless shelters. Say you volunteer to serve meals to the homeless at Metropolitan Ministries. You sign up using Meet the Need’s Web program. Meet the Need provides similar services for Habitat for Humanity and the giant food drive Feed the Bay, as well as large churches such as Van Dyke Church in Lutz. All told, about 80 churches and ministries in the region use it to schedule volunteers and keep track of families in need of food, clothes or shelter. For example, if a struggling family visits a food bank in Tampa, every other food bank that participates in Meet the Need will know it. If that same struggling family goes from food bank to food bank on the same day, churches and charities also will know it. An unfortunate reality is that some charity recipients double dip. “We don’t like to say that we police it, but we do like to track who’s coming in,” said Kim Crosby, outreach coordinator for Van Dyke Church. Meet the Need’s most unusual aspect is its business model. It accepts contributions from churches and charities, but charges nothing for its software. Eventually, the hope is that giving away the product will provide a bigger base of contributors, he said. It is just about breaking even today with revenue of $265,000 a year. Morgan’s salary has dropped from $240,000 a year as a banking consultant to $35,000 leading a nonprofit. Not that he’s complaining. Now in his late 40s, he had just hit 30 when he had what he calls a crisis of conscience. “I turned 30 years old and had done all the things I was supposed to do, but it’s not satisfying,” he said. Morgan grew up in a broken household in Atlanta, one of seven kids living under one roof — four of them his father’s kids, the other three his stepmother’s. His birth mother suffered from alcoholism and prescription drug dependency, and she dropped her children off with her husband when Morgan was 13. She had little contact with him, and eventually cut off communication when he was 16. He hasn’t seen her since. His family wasn’t especially religious, but he turned more deeply to Christianity while attending a small Christian high school in Atlanta. “We go through trials,” Morgan said. “We go through difficult times, and the difficult times send you searching for God.” Still, his faith took a back seat when his career on Wall Street and in Washington took off. Morgan was a “classic overachiever,” he said, and had his future mapped out: He would spend a year or two on Wall Street, move on to get a master’s at a prestigious business school and settle in for a lucrative job in finance. In fact, things played out pretty close to his plan. He graduated from Washington & Lee University in Virginia and landed a plum, if brutal, job with Merrill Lynch. He arrived at 8 a.m. and left at 10 p.m., working 90-hour weekstoll on his lanky, 6-foot, 3-inch frame. His year on Wall Street gave way to a job with former Georgia Congressman Doug Barnard in Washington, followed by a master’s at the University of Chicago and, finally, a job consulting with banks for Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other firms for most of the 1990s and 2000s. He loved the challenge of consulting, digging through piles of customer data and figuring out what customers the banks should go after and what products to sell them. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more than fly around the country, drink beer and play golf, he said. While driving home from Jacksonville to Atlanta, he pulled over and scratched together a business model for Meet the Need, an online program that would marry his expertise in business efficiency with his desire to serve. The same year he had his crisis of conscience, 2000, he met his wife, Claudine. They have a 5-year-old son. Today, Morgan is still flying around the country, but instead of visiting banks, he’s dropping by large churches in Dallas and elsewhere to introduce his software. He has a fan in Tim Marks, president of Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. “I crossed paths with Jim and saw what he was doing,” Marks said. “It was clear he knew how to get things done, and he wasn’t looking to make money out of the deal. We want to be more effective and more efficient.” Meet the Need is still small, with six employees and a few contract computer professionals. But it’s inking partnerships with big national groups such as the National Christian Foundation and Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ, to raise its profile. He foresees Meet the Need touching millions of lives, even if it’s just helping other charities help people. “I believe there’s so much hope and help trapped inside the four walls of our churches that needs to be released,” he said.

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Twitter: @msasso

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