the shape of leadership

Driven by Compassion

Convoy of Hope marks 30 years of growth and ministry

John W Kennedy on April 2, 2024

Convoy of Hope President and CEO Hal Donaldson has learned to think big when it comes to planning for the faith-based community development and disaster relief organization, which turns 30 in 2024.

“Every time we’ve put together a strategic plan, God has done so much more than we anticipated,” Donaldson says.

A case in point is the ministry’s massive new global headquarters that opened last October, just west of Springfield, Missouri. Leaders of the organization sensed God directing them to construct such a campus — but only if it didn’t detract from ongoing programs.

In less than two years, businesses, churches, and individuals provided $61 million so the main edifice and adjoining warehouse could open debt-free. The 240-acre campus abuts Interstate 44.

Convoy has come a long way since its founding three decades ago. The genesis of the ministry stems from Donaldson’s childhood experience with poverty.

When Donaldson was 12, his parents were involved in a car accident with a drunk driver. The crash instantly killed Donaldson’s father, a pastor, and seriously injured his mother. The surviving family of five went on welfare, keeping food on the table with the help of grocery donations from kind congregants.

Initially, Convoy focused on community outreaches in conjunction with local churches, businesses, and community service and health organizations. These days, the working poor typically come for free groceries, medical and dental screenings, haircuts, clothing, a hot meal, family portraits, and job fairs. Each event requires help from hundreds of church volunteers.

While providing food to the hungry remains a cornerstone of the ministry, Convoy has expanded over the years to meet needs identified by overseas missionaries and churches. This includes caring for children through daily feeding programs, training farmers with better agricultural techniques, and empowering impoverished women to learn job skills and form microenterprises.

“Nothing has changed the heart of our mission,” Donaldson says. “But the menu of services has adapted to needs and requests.”

Convoy designed its headquarters facilities with future growth in mind.

“We envision university students coming from all over the country and around the world to learn best practices in such areas as agriculture, food pantries, and community outreach programs,” Donaldson says.

“Everything we do — disaster response, feeding children, helping impoverished women, community outreaches — is tethered to local churches.” — Hal Donaldson

Looking ahead, Donaldson envisions dormitories on site where students can stay. He would also like to see the addition of greenhouses for growing produce to distribute.

The 272 Springfield-based employees meet weekly for chapel in a 710-seat auditorium, gathering in the same complex after previously working in three different locations. The new warehouse holds three times as many supplies as the former facility.

Early on, Convoy learned not to impose American biases on other cultures. Ministry representatives listen to leaders around the world to help craft the best response for the community in need.

Convoy of Hope — which has distributed $2.5 billion in food, water, and supplies — has always been about more than meeting immediate physical needs. The ministry’s theology of compassion is a gateway to reaching recipients with the message of Jesus.

“Our goal is to provide lasting hope to people, to provide sustainability, giving people an opportunity to escape poverty,” Donaldson says. “Everything we do — disaster response, feeding children, helping impoverished women, community outreaches — is tethered to local churches.”

Ethan Forhetz, Convoy’s vice president of public engagement, stresses the desired ongoing relationship of churchgoers with program recipients.

“The local church can continue to meet spiritual needs after meeting immediate physical needs,” Forhetz says. “The church is a touchpoint for people who need more help when Convoy leaves the area.”

With 19 consecutive years of top ratings from watchdog group Charity Navigator, Convoy of Hope has a track record of integrity. In all, 91% of contributions go directly to ministry programs.

Donaldson recalls presenting the vision of the ministry to then-Assemblies of God General Superintendent Thomas E. Trask and the AG Executive Presbytery decades ago. Trask stood up during the meeting and declared the organization should be a tool for blessing the entire kingdom of God, not just the AG. The board unanimously agreed in a vote.

Thus, even though multiple AG ministries, congregations, and U.S. and world missionaries sow seeds into Convoy — with Speed the Light responsible for financing the bulk of Convoy’s truck fleet, for instance — millions of non-AG people have benefited. Donors give generously because they want to reflect Christ’s compassion, Donaldson says.

“Jesus met the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, the suffering, the hurting,” Donaldson says. “Time and again, Scripture tells us to reach out and do the same.”

Convoy of Hope has grown exponentially over the past five years. While various ministries cut back or closed because of COVID-19, Convoy kept growing, adapting new methods to fulfill its mission. During an 18-month span, Convoy dispensed over 200 million meals through churches.

Now Convoy is the 35th-largest charity in the U.S., according to Forbes. Annual revenue (including donated food and supplies) nearly tripled in recent years, from $180 million in 2018 to $515 million in 2022.

Donaldson believes growth will continue, while the number of world crises seems to be increasing. Since 1998, Convoy of Hope has been on the scene soon after 700 disasters, including floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms, and wildfires. After responding to 75 disasters in 2022 — a record number at the time — Convoy surpassed that figure for 2023 by the end of October.

Rather than being territorial, Donaldson is glad to cooperate with other ministries.

“There are so many needs, no one organization or denomination can meet them all,” Donaldson says. “It’s important to God that we set aside our differences and link arms with like-minded people to get the job done.”

At 66, Donaldson remains a bundle of energy and vision, crisscrossing the globe and strategizing what’s ahead. Convoy has 169 international employees. To improve response times after disasters, the ministry opened its first regional distribution center in Sacramento, California, with blueprints for opening another in Atlanta during 2024. While he has strength and stamina, Donaldson is pushing himself.

“God is empowering me to sprint to the finish line and then hand the baton off to His successor, whenever that will be,” Donaldson says. “When God identifies who He wants to run the next leg of the race, I have to be willing to step aside. This is His ministry.”


This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of Influence magazine.

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