Whatever it takes: Tapping into volunteer skills

CHANGE: Asheville Tool Library saw plenty of change in 2022, including a new location, says board member Stephanie Kane. Photo courtesy of Kane

Editor’s note: For our fall Nonprofit issue, we invited local nonprofit leaders to reflect on the successes and challenges of operating a 501(c)(3) in Western North Carolina. 

Stephanie Kane is a board member of Asheville Tool Library.

Xpress: What about this year’s volunteer/staff work gives you hope about your nonprofit’s mission and its overall impact on the community?

Kane: Our tool library manager, Tay Zarkin, has done some amazing work connecting us to other nonprofits and collectives in our area. With them running things, we’ve been able to tap into the skills our volunteers have, such as grant writing, fundraising and tech support. Also, our maintenance team repairs and maintains our tools — not a common skill these days.

What has been the most challenging aspect of operating your nonprofit this year?

We had some sudden changes in 2022: new board members, our first staff person and our new location. With only one part-time staff, we rely on volunteers to make time in their lives to keep things rolling. Our new manager, Tay, stepped up to run our operations while the board had a mission to do some deep organizational work and look for a new location in our city, which is becoming increasingly unaffordable. We have some pretty specific needs — a storefront with the ability for members to drive up to load tools and a workshop for repairs where we could also pressure wash tools on the street. Our new location at Smith Mill Works offers us the convenience of West Asheville with the freedom of the warehouse space where we now reside.

How have the last 2 1/2 years reshaped the way your nonprofit operates, and do you see these changes as permanent? 

In March of 2020, we had to reduce contact with members. Luckily, our software already had a reservation system that allowed members to reserve tools from home and pick up their orders from the sidewalk. Because of this, we were able to reopen two months later. Simply underutilized before, this reservation system has made our service better for our members who no longer have to come in unsure of what’s available.

We also saw how critical our service was to residents in Asheville. We made things possible — be it the repair or building projects of so many homeowners, or members building out vans and hitting the road. And we saw our scholarship program increase. Seeing this impact led to the strengthening of our organization.



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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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