Ransom Miller III , graduate of Howard University, came to the District of Columbia with his eyes on an education and the football field. After graduation, he made the District his home. Like any man of integrity, Ransom was determined to sow a seed in the land where he lived. As a professional staff member of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates (Washington, DC based accounting firm), Ransom collected cash donations and canned goods throughout the fall months of 1995, and distributed food baskets to 6 families and one homeless shelter the week of Thanksgiving. The support Ransom received was extremely positive and inspired him to make this food drive an annual event. With hopes of gaining a wide range of support and in an effort to separate this project from others, Ransom named the food drive Project GiveBack. Through its annual Thanksgiving Food Distribution, Project GiveBack has been able to assist over 3,400 families in the Metropolitan Washington, DC Area.
Ransom was gracious enough to take out some time to talk to us about supporting less fortunate communities, leadership and following the call to service.
You started giving back as an activity to get your coworkers involved in a good cause. Almost 20 years later, it’s blossomed into one of the biggest food drives in the District of Columbia. What’s been the driving force behind your efforts?
The driving force behind my effort to provide food to those in need stems from my upbringing. As a child, I watched my father serve as the Deacon in charge of benevolence issues and a mother who served on the missionary board. I truly feel like I was born into community service. For me, it is very natural to find ways to help others. Project GiveBack is just a vehicle for me and others to make a difference in the lives of others. In addition to my inclination to help others, I feel that God has truly blessed me in all aspects of my life and it is my duty to give back.
People always say “Someday I want to start a non-profit”. In the beginning stages, you weren’t at a non profit status. What drove you to apply for that status? And what are some of the challenges of being at the non-profit status?
Initially, Project GiveBack was a grassroots project. I asked all of my friends to donate $25-$100 based on their ability. That was enough for small efforts. As our inclination to help others grew, so did the price tag on our projects. When you start asking individuals and companies to give over $250, folks start asking for a receipt for their taxes. Only legitimate non profits can provide that. For several years we worked in conjunction with my Fraternity’s local charitable foundation as our efforts aligned perfectly, but the time eventually came for us to file for our own nonprofit status. I made the mistake of allowing the process to intimidate me and thinking that I needed to hire a lawyer or sweet talk one to do it for me. Of course, if you can afford it or if your sweet talk skills are strong, going with a professional is the way to go. But even if a professional does it, you should be seriously involved, as you will ultimately responsible. In retrospect, I should have done it myself years before I did. It was not as hard as I thought it would be. If you are serious about the process I suggest going to the IRS website and searching for Form 1023 and its instructions. I will say that before I submitted the form, I was able to sweet talk (I mean convince) some professionals in the field to review it for me. This is a federal tax form and Uncle Sam does not play around with folks who either game the system or are uninformed of the law.
A part of your mission state speaks to uplifting people mentally, spiritually and financially. What are some of the ways that a regular person can help give back to his/her community in these areas?
These days community service is very sexy. This phenomenon has progressed over the years much to my delight, and I think it is good for the hood. It is not hard to find a service project that tickles your fancy so to speak. Find something that you are passionate about. Passion will fuel you and keep you on a positive course, you will need that passion when the other side of your brain realizes that you are working for free. Find a group that you trust and look for ways to get involved first as a volunteer. If you find the organization worthy, see how you can get involved from a strategic standpoint. Most people have a great deal to offer. You can offer your primary skill set or use your service to perfect or develop new skills. Using your service as a skill builder has proven to be extremely positive for several in my circle. With regard to uplifting people mentally, spiritually and financially, we felt that this would be a wide net cast to assist the whole person. Our thought is that if we address these three aspects, we will have made strides towards fixing problems that could not be fixed without addressing all three.
There are non-profits that are effective. Then there are those that are not. What is the dividing line between effective and ineffective non-profit organizations?
The designation of effective or non effective truly depends on the scope of the organization. Perception plays a big part in that stamp, but each organization must paint their own picture of success. We should all be judged on the criteria we set forth as leaders. That being said, I feel strongly that the organizations that fail lack strategic vision and genuine care for the people they serve. You don’t get into this business for fame, stardom and God knows you don’t get into it for the money. It must be genuine. I also see failure in the inability to effectively delegate. It is very easy to get into the unhealthy practice of doing everything yourself. You will eventually burn out. Don’t go out and get a board of directors full of who’s who that are too busy to help you reach your goals. Fill your board with co-laborers, and then go get those big wigs to help you pull in financial support.
Sometimes we get caught up in the passion of the mission. But there is a certain skill set needed to lead a large mission-based effort. Which one of the attributes within your skill set do you appreciate and utilize the most?
Leadership! You have to set forth the vision and ensure that your team understand not only where you need to go and how to get there, but where they fit in the overall plan.
If you had to mesh 5 leaders into the “perfect” leader, who would be included?
First and foremost, I have to say that my father Ransom Miller, Jr. (Chairman Emeritus of the Deacon Ministry at Bethlehem Star Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, OK) had a great deal of influence on who I am and what I have always wanted to be so I have to put him at the top of my leader list. Below are those who round out my top 5:
President Barack Obama
Martin Luther King
What’s the last book that you’ve read?
Love Leadership by John Hope Bryant. I highly recommend it.
Having done this for close to 20 years, where do you see Project Giveback in the next 20 years?
I have my eye on a few folks that I refer to as “The Future”. I hope that they will help me carry on the efforts we started almost 20 years ago. I hope we can serve as a blueprint for others who share my passion for community. I pray that my son and the children of those who labor with me will have the passion to take the organization to new heights. In 20 years, I visualize a Project GiveBack in cities across the country and maybe even outside our borders simultaneously spreading love through service.
What is your most memorable moment while working within this organization?
My favorite moment was when we delivered food to a family at Thanksgiving. The entity that we purchased the food from (I can’t name them publicly because they have not committed to sponsoring us yet) threw in a few Christmas trees. There was a little girl who was about 8 years old. She was elated that her favorite cereal was in the box (that was my wife’s call to add cereal s/o to @educhic). When the little girl saw the Christmas tree she literally lost it. She was so happy she began to cry tears of joy. She grabbed my leg and would not let it go. She said thank you about 50 times. She said that her family never had a Christmas tree. My emotions took over. I did not cry though… I am tough. There were just onions in the box that made it look like I was crying. By the way, as I left that house, I realized if that family never had a Christmas tree that it was very likely that they would not have the ability to put any gifts under their new tree. Born was the Project GiveBack Children’s Toy Drive.
Facebook: Project GiveBack