Stories of Resilience: Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

Stories of Resilience: A Series Brought To You By The Blackbaud Institute

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, social good organizations are working creatively to navigate the new landscape. In this series, the Blackbaud Institute shares stories of organizations that are focusing on resilience, weathering these many changes while still positioning themselves for future growth. For more insight including quarterly giving performance updates, visit the Blackbaud Institute Index.


While many organizations are experiencing previously unimaginable disruptions to their operations, many others are swiftly adapting to meet sharp rises in demand for services.  The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina is one such organization that has harnessed its supporter base’s commitment to serve community needs. Planning and internal collaboration have been two key elements in the food bank’s ability to efficiently respond.

In a normal year, 60% of the food bank’s annual revenue comes from individuals. This year, the food bank saw a ten-fold increase in online donations in early March, before the food bank even put out a call for pandemic-related support. The team at the 40-year old food bank, which serves 34 North Carolina counties, were financially empowered by this to pivot their operations early and manage evolving needs brought on by the pandemic.

Samantha Wright, Director of Development Operations and Analytics for the food bank, says that being located in a hurricane zone makes them “no strangers to disaster response.” Experience responding to natural disasters helped them form a crisis blueprint. Their operations team rapidly implemented a new ordering and loading process for partner agencies. As a result, they were able to more efficiently move food out of warehouses while minimizing the number of people working within them. Additionally, the food bank immediately formed a crisis planning team, which continues to meet daily to review updates and collaborate on operations.

The crisis planning team has been an instrumental arm of the food bank’s communications by quickly sharing information to form a feedback loop. For instance, Wright explained how “photos, interviews, and stories are continually fed to the communications team,” which then shares the information with supporters. Fundraising staff also send weekly updates to their portfolio of donors, and the feedback loop continues as the food bank’s President and CEO hosts a monthly videoconference with key constituents.

In pivoting their response, Wright mentioned several new trends the food bank has seen in their donor population. Since the pandemic began, the food bank has received donations from nearly 14,000 new donors, with most new donors from their immediate service area. Additionally, almost 80% of new donor revenue has come from online giving. To steward this influx of new donors, the fundraising team is keeping recent donors informed with weekly update emails that include photos and stories from the front lines and moving major donors into managed portfolios for renewals and upgrades.

Even as they place a large focus on their immediate response, the food bank is also planning for long-term supporter retention. In step with their robust stewardship and cultivation, Wright says the direct marketing team has focused on their communication and retention strategies. The food bank created a case statement detailing their current progress towards COVID-19 response and their projected budget for the next six months. Wright says that while determining retention goals and budgeting for next year is a unique challenge, they are also encouraged by their community’s response.

While the team continues to adapt as they go, relying on internal communications and virtual meetings to stay connected, they are inspired by the responses and stories they’ve received. As Wright says, “We’ve been through challenging times together and we know that we will come through to the other side stronger, and with a renewed energy to support our community in creative ways.”