According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) 2009 State of Fundraising Survey, only “43 percent of charities raised more money in 2009 than in 2008, marking it the worst year for charitable fundraising in a decade.”

The survey states that declines were consistent regardless of cause. However, several of the food banks that I have talked to actually did well last year.

In 2009 food banks across the country had to step up to fill increased needs cause by the recession. Thankfully, many of them had a strong donor base in place that recognized the need and were willing maintain funding.

Canned food drives continue to be successful

Canned food drives are an ongoing effort for food banks and pantries. They provide a way for supporters to give something tangible and they can feel good knowing that they literally provided food to help those in need.

Deborah Talbot, Development Coordinator at Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in Gainesville, Florida said that food donations in 2009 were way ahead of the previous year. In a special drive the week before Thanksgiving they took in over 8,000 pounds in 2 days. “The Gainesville community historically has been very good about responding to publicity about the needs of their neighbors, and we’ve had exceptional local media coverage this year, too.”

The food bank proactively solicited groups to help. “At the beginning of October we sent out a letter to all groups/individuals who conducted food drives for us during the past year (including through the 2008 holidays) asking them to consider doing so again over the holidays.”

Direct mail is a strategy that Bread of the Mighty uses wisely.  In fact, one of their thank you letters is even included as a sample in the book 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money by Mail.

Talbot continues, “We’ve had a 28% response with repeat food drivers. From October to December we had 164 food drives, with 88 repeats from the past year. From the 200 letters we sent out October 1, we had a 44% response. I was amazed and thrilled. We had a 15% increase by weight in the amount of food received through food drives.”

Direct mail appeals prior to holiday season

Sandy Rees, with whom I co-authored the above mentioned book, has worked with food banks for several years. “The holiday season is prime fundraising time for food banks, particularly Thanksgiving. Most TV and radio stations will help promote fundraising or foodraising campaigns, especially if you get them on board early enough.”

Rees notes that the most important thing is to tie the amount you’re asking for to a meal. For example “your gift of $5.00 will provide a Thanksgiving basket for a family in need.”  Food banks can raise money with a Thanksgiving theme from early October to late November.  Just be sure to word the appeal appropriately, whether the donation will go to a restricted fund just for holiday meals or goes toward a general fund.

Year-long follow up with supporters

Talbot sees direct mail as an ongoing project. “The other things we’ve done more diligently is to follow up with donors (financial & food) throughout the year. This is my third holiday season with the food bank and the consistency with me coordinating food drives & acting as a food drive point of contact has improved partnership relationships with the various offices and groups.”

This year Bread of the Mighty prepared an annual report for the first time.  They included information about how holiday giving went and the impact it had. “This went out with our 2009 tax receipt letters, which we sent to everyone who gave us finances (no matter how little or how much) during the year. It will also go out with every thank you letter and other reasonably appropriate piece of correspondence until the next one is prepared for April. Time will tell on the effectiveness.”

Capital campaigns fund long term goals

Wichita Falls Area Food BankThe Wichita Falls Area Food Bank in Wichita Falls, Texas was successful with a capital campaign in 2009. Executive Director Mary Stengel emphasized that the dedication of board members and volunteers early on made a big difference.

“We had a capital campaign chairperson and co-chairs. Each co-chair had 5 captains and each of them had 5 volunteers.  We went to our database and identified donors who gave at least $500 in the last 3 years.  Then each of these teams got a list of people they would call on.”

In addition to one-on-one personal asks, the board and staff looked to foundations for grants. By the time the public phase of the campaign kicked off in October, they already had $660,000 pledged toward the goal of nearly 1 million.

When asked about how they were able to be so successful Stengel replied, “People knew how bad the economy was and the impact the food bank has on the community and the hungry people we serve. People recognize the needs growing from agencies in the 12 counties that we reach. We would never be able to grow or meet the increased need without increased warehouse space.”

Optimism for the future

Working through partner agencies and the national Feeding America network, food banks continue to do great work to serve those in need during economic tough times.  Continuing to build relationships with supporters and demonstrating effectiveness on mission will continue to help them, and other nonprofits, stay funded for years to come.

Posted on 26 April 2010

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