Biz 100

Biz 417 Person of the Year 2023: Hal Donaldson

With a new world headquarters that opened in October, Convoy of Hope has had a big year. Founder Hal Donaldson has paved the way for its success.

by Tessa Cooper

Nov 2023

Hal Donaldson Biz 417 Person of the Year 2023
Photo by Brandon Alms Purchase Photo

This past October marked a huge milestone for Convoy of Hope. The faith-based humanitarian organization moved its headquarters from Springfield to a newly built 200,000-square-foot facility in Republic.

Expanding into such a large building is an impressive feat for any nonprofit, but Convoy’s president and founder, Hal Donaldson, considers it a means to an end. In fact, he never envisioned the organization growing to the point of needing such a large-scale operating site. “The fact is, I never wanted to build a building [or] to own a building,” Donaldson says. “I think what happens with a lot of charities is that they become about the building. We entered into this knowing that if we were supposed to do this, that if God wants us to do this, there’s one thing that’s nonnegotiable: We cannot in any way reduce our mission or allow it to affect our mission, and we cannot touch any funds that are focused on the mission. This has to be all new resources.”

Convoy was successful in meeting these requirements, and the new building is allowing the organization to expand its mission rather than reduce it. Previously, Convoy employees worked at three separate sites, but this new building houses more than 300 of Convoy’s 500 global employees together for the first time in a decade.

After five years of fundraising, the organization gathered $45 million from private donors to pay for the project in full. Buxton Kubik Dodd Design Collective designed the building in a way that optimizes Convoy’s ability to help as many people as possible, and the addition of a training center component allows the organization space to expand its training opportunities to more university students, international recipients, churches, businesses and civic groups. A skywalk connects the organization’s global headquarters and training center to its world distribution center, which holds mounds of supplies at the ready for Convoy to deliver to those who need them most.

Convoy focuses on six outreach pillars, which include children’s feeding, women’s empowerment, agricultural training, rural aid, community outreach events and natural disaster relief. Today, the organization is a well-oiled machine. When news struck about the August 2023 wildfires in Hawaii, Donaldson was in Nicaragua. “We’ve responded to nearly 700 disasters since 1998,” Donaldson says. “Already this year, we’ve responded to 72. The team knows that if it’s a disaster of virtually medium size magnitude, we’re going to respond. So even if I’m out of the country, I just know our team is responding. I don’t even question that.”

Aerial photo of Convoy of Hope center.
Photoso courtesy Convoy of Hope, by Leah StiefermannThe recently completed Global Headquarters & Training Center is 200,000 square feet consisting of three floors that houses Convoy’s U.S.-based team members. The building includes an atrium, office spaces, an auditorium, and 40,000 square feet of space for future expansion.
Polaroid photo of Convoy of Hope opening distribution center.
Photoso courtesy Convoy of Hope, by Leah StiefermannConvoy of Hope leadership opens the original World Distribution Center in Springfield in 2000.
Hal Donaldon giving a talk
Photoso courtesy Convoy of Hope, by Leah StiefermannA new warehouse and world headquarters facility was dedicated in Springfield in October 2023.

Budgeting for such unexpected events can be challenging, and the organization actually forgoes attempting it at all. “People are often surprised that we don’t budget for disasters,” Donaldson says. “If you do, you’re going to be hoarding millions of dollars, waiting for the next big one. We don’t believe that’s what we’ve been called to do. It’s probably not the best or the safest business model. But we tell our people, ‘Go to that disaster. Help people, as many people as you possibly can for as long as you can, and don’t worry about the money.’ We believe that money will come in on the back end if we’re doing God’s work. And we’ve been operating that way for 20-plus years. We don’t want our disaster response to be driven by money. We want it to be driven by the need on the ground.”

This approach allows Convoy to stay in disaster-stricken areas long after the media crews and other volunteers head home. In staying as long as its needed, the organization is still providing ongoing relief in Ukraine.

Donaldson himself is no stranger to life’s tragedies. When he was a child living in California, a drunk driver hit his parents, killing his father and severely injuring his mother. “As a 12-year-old boy, I had to grow up real quick,” Donaldson says. “There were days that the cupboards were empty and days that [my siblings and I] had to go to school with holes in our shoes. I just told myself as a teenager that ‘someday, I’m not going to be poor.’ I felt like the best way to escape poverty was through education. So I went out and earned several degrees.”

One of those degrees was a bachelor’s in journalism from San Jose State University. In a roundabout way, this degree led him to start the organization and also thrive in a leadership role. “Journalism taught me to ask the right questions, and I think that’s really a key to success in business and in life,” he says.

How Kindness Grew Convoy

Convoy is approaching its 30th anniversary, and Hal Donaldson credits much of the organization’s success to the generous people in 417-land. “People ask me all the time, ‘How has it grown so fast?’” he says. “I think a lot of it has to do with this community of people in the Ozarks. They care, and there is genuine compassion here. It’s just an honor and a privilege to represent this community.” As of press time, Convoy of Hope already responded to 72 disasters in 2023, and they’ve responded to 691 total since 1998. Here’s a by-the-numbers look at how the organization has steadily expanded its disaster response over the past half-decade.

In his late 20s, Donaldson was on assignment working on a book for missionaries in Kolkata, India, an opportunity that allowed him to interview Mother Teresa. “It was surreal sitting there with her,” he recalls. “In the course of the interview, she just stopped and said, ‘Young man, let me ask you a question. What are you doing to help the poor and the suffering?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m really not doing much of anything.’ She responded, ‘Well, everyone can do something. Just do the next kind thing that God puts in front of you.’ Those words were really haunting for me.”

That night, Donaldson went back to the hotel that the missionaries had arranged for him to stay at, which he describes as “very opulent.” On his way there, he recalls seeing many suffering people living in the streets, and he felt an overwhelming sense of shame for not doing anything to help them. “I began to ask myself the question, ‘Am I happy, and am I fulfilled?’ And the answer was, no, I wasn’t happy, and it was because I was somewhat living for myself. I was trying to escape that rural poverty. It was all about building my career and about building my bank account.”

Even after some time had passed since meeting with Mother Teresa, he couldn’t forget her words. He interviewed people in need during travels to major cities with friends. When he returned home to northern California, he loaded a pickup truck with $300 worth of groceries and began passing them out to the migrant farmworkers. The experience was so fulfilling that he got his friends and family members involved and dubbed the events “Care Days.” The concept eventually evolved into Convoy of Hope. In 1995, Donaldson accepted a position at the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, and the move allowed him to operate Convoy of Hope from a central location and ultimately reach more people. “There’s no one who escapes trauma,” Donaldson says. “It’s going to happen to everyone. My trauma happened to be the death of a father and a life of poverty, but other people have other experiences.” Through kindness shown to him by others, Donaldson was able to overcome his trauma.

“I think that’s the power of Convoy of Hope’s story,” he says. “It encourages people that tomorrow can be better than today. We don’t have to live in the past. We can have a brighter future. In part, that’s really what Convoy of Hope is about. It’s about the plates of food, helping women start businesses, helping farmers increase their yields, helping communities across the United States and keeping hope alive.”

Childhood photo of Hal Donaldson
Photos courtesy Convoy of HopeHal Donaldson (far right) with his family in California in 1964.
Hal Donaldson in Kenya
Photos courtesy Convoy of HopeHal Donaldson distributes relief supplies in Kenya in 2005.

Disruptive Compassion

True to his journalism roots, Hal Donaldson is still a writer. He’s written more than 30 books to date, and he always has more ideas to share in print. He published his most recent book in 2019, Disruptive Compassion: Becoming the Revolutionary You Were Born to Be. This book discusses the idea that everyone has what it takes to evoke meaningful change in the world regardless of their current situations or past. Four years later, Donaldson shares the lessons he’s learned that he would add to the book if he were writing it today.

1. Self-care isn’t optional. It’s crucial. “I would have written more on how you care for yourself while serving a hurting world,” he says. “I think that self-care piece is very important and underestimated.” His next book, titled What Really Matters: How to Care for Yourself and Serve a Hurting World, is coming out in April 2024.

2. Serving is more important than leading. “Leadership is overrated, and servanthood is underrated,” he says.

3. Your job title and current position don’t hinder your ability to take action. “All of us have a job to do regardless of our place in life,” he says. “To make the world a better place, we all can do something. We just have to do our part.”