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A Tradition of Caring

A Tradition of CaringTufts graduate Luke Hingson, who inherited the reins of the charitable foundation his father began, sees efficient business as key to Brother's Brother success.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.07.08] As head of the Brother's Brother Foundation, 1974 Tufts graduate Luke Hingson has overseen billions of dollars in donations to more than 100 needy countries. But why has the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit earned the reputation of being one of the most successful charities in the United States? It's the efficiency with which it operates, making sure that the bulk of its money goes to where it's needed most.

"There is a sense here that you are not supposed to be wealthy working for a charity," Hingson told Forbes, which recently praised Brother's Brother for being "as efficient as they come" in the magazine's list of the 200 largest-by-private-donation nonprofits in the United States. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that was the sixth straight year Brother's Brother had been recognized by Forbes with a perfect score for fundraising efficiency and charitable commitment.

"One of the largest such charities in the country, it might be the smartest- and hardest-working," according to the Tribune-Review.

Brother's Brother was founded in Cleveland in 1958-it moved to Pittsburgh ten years later-by Hingson's father, Robert, a renowned anesthesiologist who worked on inoculation technologies. The organization was originally named Brother's Keeper, Forbes reported. But as the magazine explained, a Nigerian medical student's observation that "We don't need a keeper;we need a brother" prompted the name change. The organization's focus also evolved from vaccinations to broader donations of goods.

Hingson joined Brother's Brother full time after graduating from Tufts, not expecting it to become his life's work. Shortly after he came on board, his father charged him with coordinating supply efforts in response to a hurricane in Honduras. When all was said and done, Hingson oversaw the shipment of 20 tractor-trailer loads' worth of medical supplies to the Latin-American nation, the Tribune-Review reported.

"I learned to do things on a shoestring," Hingson, who took over for his father in 1981, told the newspaper. "I'm still working on a shoestring."

That frugality and commitment to charity is even reflected in the organization's headquarters. According to Forbes, the foundation, which boasts a full-time staff of just 10, is housed in a former factory in a run-down, commercial part of Pittsburgh. Hingson himself only receives a salary of $113,400, Forbes reported-half of what the heads of similar organizations earn.

According to Forbes, the foundation shipped $262 million in donated goods around the world last year while not exceeding $1 million in overhead expenses. Charity Navigator, which has awarded Brother's Brother a four-star rating for four straight years, indicates that only 0.1 percent of the funds taken in by Brother's Brother went for the organization's own expenses.

"When people give you their life savings, you want to be respectful of it," Hingson told the Tribune-Review. Other accolades, the newspaper reported, have come from Better Business Bureau, Nonprofit Times, Charity Navigator and Chronicles of Philanthropy, which ranked the foundation as the ninth largest charity in the U.S. in 2006.

Brother's Brother also does not spend money actively soliciting attention or donations, relying instead on word of mouth and its relationships with a range of major pharmaceutical companies, book publishers and other companies and organizations.

Forbes reported that the foundation has sent both emergency and non-emergency goods to 121 countries, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The foundation works with other nonprofits already installed in these countries to help distribute goods, including major governmental organizations such as the Agency for International Development.

Hingson's colleagues praise his leadership of the foundation.

"He's a visionary," Schuyler Foerster of the Pittsburgh World Affairs Council told the Tribune-Review. "He's passionate. He really cares about carrying on this work."

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