Clinton Laws had a passion for helping people. Faith and Family were always at the center of his life, but he also made it a priority to volunteer for causes close to his heart. After an early retirement from Western Union, Clinton enjoyed a successful second career as a fundraiser and not-for-profit executive. Through his professional and volunteer roles, Clinton could see that there were many worthy organizations and causes he wanted to support, but he was also keenly aware that time and resources were limited.
When Clinton learned of the enhanced deduction offered by the IRS for gifts of excess inventory, he saw a tremendous opportunity to fill the support void by connecting non-profit organizations with corporate excess inventory. The drawbacks, he noticed, included few options for companies who wished to make bulk donations of excess inventory, as well as few charities that could handle those large gifts. The answer, it seemed, was to provide both a resource for corporations to send large bulk donations and a distribution channel so that nonprofits could pick and choose which items of that donated material would be of benefit to their cause. A few other organizations, known as Charitable Intermediaries existed, but most focused on either drop shipments or expensive membership fees. Both of those structures made it nearly impossible for smaller charities to participate.
With this in mind, in 1991 Clinton began conducting operations as Worldwide Inventory Network in a small building in St. Charles, Missouri. His business plan centered around distributing donated products to qualified not-for-profit organizations without requiring any membership fees. Instituting, instead, Shared Management Fees (based on the value of the merchandise) allowed organizations of any size or budget to participate in the program. WIN quickly outgrew that small building when large deliveries of surplus electronic equipment began to arrive. Operations moved into 3,000 square feet of leased warehouse space in the city of St. Louis on San Francisco Avenue. WIN received over $170,000 worth of donated products in its first full year of operations.
WIN added clothing and uniform distributors to the donor rolls and began to grow dynamically. Through WIN’s distribution network, donors outfitted hundreds of uniformed personnel from small municipalities all over the Midwest. Some of these donation recipients were volunteer firefighters who, as Clinton said, “…may otherwise be fighting fires in blue jeans and tennis shoes.” As the uniform program continued to grow, receipt of donated merchandise topped the $10 million mark for the first time in 1999. WIN occupied more and more space until it had leased 36,000 square feet, the maximum available at the time. Early during this period of growth, the WIN Board of Directors instituted a policy of making cash donations to qualified charities from surplus funds received over the cost of operations. Cash gifts continue to be a priority for the Board and, to date, WIN has awarded more than $1.3 million to deserving organizations.
In the first few years of the 21st century, WIN began receiving significant contributions from new markets: industrial supply, MRO (maintenance, repair & operations), and safety distributors. These new donation channels allowed WIN to become a resource for any charitable organization with building maintenance needs. Several of these donors became regular contributors and, as a result, WIN averaged more than $10 million in merchandise annually during this period and twice received annual donations more than $20 million.
The St. Louis Business Journal recognized WIN as one of the top ten non-profit organizations in the St. Louis region as measured by public support. More space was leased off-site to accommodate the additional merchandise bringing the total to over 50,000 square feet. In 2002, Clinton’s son, Travis, joined the organization in donor development and program management, eventually expanding his role to financial and operations management.
As WIN continued to outgrow its space and lease arrangement, the organization’s Board of Directors made plans to purchase a building to house all programs and administrative functions. At approximately the same time, the primary tenant of the building on San Francisco Avenue moved out, and the entire building became available for purchase. In the spring of 2010, WIN closed on the acquisition of that building and became the owner and sole occupant of the current 151,000 square foot facility.
Clinton Laws passed away in June of 2012. Although his family and friends still feel the profound loss of his presence, the legacy of love and support he left behind thrives. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of his son Travis, who not only took the reigns of leadership at WIN, but, like his father before him, leading with faith and family, volunteers his time, talents, and treasure to causes he holds dear.
Even in the midst of transition, there was unprecedented growth, and WIN received more than $40 million in product donations in 2011 and again in 2012. With a varied and extensive inventory including sportswear to footwear to sophisticated scientific equipment, the WIN team is always seeking new ways to distribute excess inventory into the hands of the people who need them the most.
Today, the team members at WIN strive to execute their roles as partners and servant leaders, believing in collaboration and using the power of good works to bring about change – in the hearts, homes, cities, and nations of those they serve.