Even Storms Bear Fruit: Monumental Fundraising Opportunities For Food Banks In The Post-COVID Era

There we were, oblivious to the storm coming our way.

In early 2020, all seemed normal. But then COVID came – and suddenly, food bank fundraising was changed (quite possibly, forever). Unprecedented challenges appeared. Events were cancelled. Initiatives were drastically altered or put on hold. And the need to combat hunger and poverty in our communities became all the more urgent. In short, we were caught in a hurricane of uncertainty. But even storms can bring prosperity. Farmers call it a windfall: when a strong wind blows through an orchard and drops all the fruit from the trees. Now you might wonder, “What does that have to do with fundraising and food banks?” Well, quite a lot, because…

Despite the many difficulties of COVID-19, a windfall of opportunity now approaches the Food Bank Sector – and we want you to be ready to reap the rewards!!!

Recently, several fundraising experts of the North American food bank sector and I (Mike Johnston, Digital Fundraiser and Founder of hjc new media) took part in Blackbaud and hjc’s annual Food Bank Summit. Over the course of 3 days, we shared experiences, findings, challenges, and trends. And what we discovered was a plethora of prospects in the post-COVID landscape.

In all honesty, never has there been a better time to gain, sustain, and upgrade donors and expand your digital efforts to accomplish your mission. So, for the benefit of the entire industry looking to solve hunger across communities, cities, and nations, I present to you your guide for Foodbank Fundraising in 2021. Enjoy!

  1. Monthly Giving: An Unprecedented Opportunity for an Unprecedented Time

Organizations across the board had a drastic increase in first-time gift givers in 2020. If you’re a part of one of these organizations, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you steward them. Share with them all you can – let them feel they’re a part of the family. Send them thank-you notes, impact reports, and invites to special events. Or, even go the extra step with hand-written notes and personalized videos.

With so many one-time gift (OTG) donors, there’s never been a more opportune time to sift your donor base and find those special donors willing to become monthly supporters. Their donations may seem small, but the steady funding it provides not only gives your organization a stable, reliable base, but lays an important step in moving donors to become middle donors – or even better, major donors years from now! Take this time to set your organization up for the long game. It will pay dividends in the future.

  1. Middle Donors: A Vital Part of the Donor Pipeline

It’s not just the monthlies that could become major donors. Often charities forget about the rich, lush space the middle donors occupy, putting too much emphasis on the OTG and Big Gift Givers. Steward your relationship with these donors to increase chances of gaining future major gifts – but also consider that they may not be at this stage yet. I advise you to look into upgrading smaller gift givers to middle donors. Then, later on, move them on to major gifts. Remember: it’s all about moving from one step to the next gradually.

  1. Planned Giving: Of Less Value? Or Undervalued?

Compared to other sectors food banks usually  report fewer bequests from donors – especially when you compare to other sectors, like long-term care and animal welfare. But is this truly because fewer people are interested in leaving gifts in their wills to food banks – or because we, as a sector, just aren’t asking? If your organization’s willing, this may be the best time to explore. In the past 18 months, it’s been reported that wills are being filled out in record number and mortality rates haven’t been this low in North America since the Second World War.

Given this shift in the zeitgeist, you may not be receiving so many bequests simply because you’re not asking. Explore starting this conversation with your donors. Ask if they’ve considered (perhaps over a phone call or via email) and see what the interest is. And if there proves to be an interest, use that data to shift more focus on planned giving. Doing so could result in some big gifts in the future you otherwise might not have ever seen.

  1. Virtual Food Drives: Break Bread Digitally

In a digital world, it should be no surprise that virtual food drives are not only becoming more popular but more lucrative. To level-set, virtual food drives allow supporters to, instead of bringing physical food items to a location, raise money for your food bank. The dollars raised are used to purchase the items your organization and constituents need

The benefits are tremendous. With a virtual event, it takes less staffing power to operate, fewer dollars to set up, food waste is reduced, and the barrier to entry (because people don’t have to be physically present) is much lower. Another benefit is risk mitigation. If another event like COVID ever occurs, you’ll be prepped with an online fundraising event that needs no alteration. It’s simple, non-invasive, and COVID/disaster response-friendly!

  1. Data Culture: Cultivate A Data-Driven Staff

Data is great. It opens the door to deepening connections with supporters and personalizing their experience with your organization. But to make that happen, your data must be actionable. It must be clean, easy to understand, and understood by your entire team. Take the time to get your team together, perhaps designate an expert, and walk everyone through the value of the data and the important role it plays. Inspire everyone, from volunteers to board members, to see that data isn’t just an asset – it offers a way to uncover potential. It’s the guiding light for all your fundraising and marketing efforts.

  1. Data Hygiene: Keep it clean – Keep it efficient.

Jumping off the previous point, ensure your data is also nurtured. It might take time to do, but it’s vital in this digital age to keep your data clean so it can be easily understood. Eliminate duplicate information, merge or split data sets as necessary, rebuild missing data, and in general, ensure smooth sailing down every avenue your donors may come to your donation page through. With data kept clean, your organization will have more concise information on how many donors, supporters, potential constituents, and more accurate revenue numbers, so be sure to prioritize data hygiene.

  1. Going Forward: Step-by-Step

Above all, remember: It’s a process. You need to slowly build one layer at a time to ensure the most secure foundation to build your fundraising machine. It’s also iterative. Not all efforts may produce the lottery-winning dopamine rush all fundraisers hope to achieve, but with data, you’ll be able to uncover flaws, successes, and even potential new prospects that can all build to better future fundraising.

Conclusion: Best of Luck – And Don’t Hesitate To Call!

As a fundraiser with 33 years experience, I can say without hesitation there’s never been a moment where opportunity has been so abundant for the world of philanthropy (and I have the data to back it up: please see our Foodbank Report for deeper analysis on all these topics). This windfall of donors, combined with the increased need of Food Banks, amplified by a surge in digital adoption is a sure recipe for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow your organization, truly.

It’s my hope you found this blog enlightening and insightful. In this unprecedented time, the opportunities ahead might seem hard to see. But our collective expertise, research, and data at this year’s Food Bank Summit was truly an illuminating light shining through the fog of the storm – which is why I’m glad to have this chance to share with you the many findings we had.

If you’d like to chat more, please don’t hesitate to contact me, or share your insights in the comments below!

Other Resources:

Food Bank Summit OnDemand

Food Bank Summit – Top Takeaways