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Lindsey Iero thinks about how food banks are preparing for the road ahead

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Over the last two years, nonprofits have seen digital marketing and fundraising accelerate at lightning speed. In this season of Group Thinkers, we’re dedicating each episode to discussing digital advancement with some of the industry’s leading experts.

On the final episode of Season 8, we sit down with Lindsey Iero, Director of Direct Marketing Fundraising Services at Feeding America, to discuss the incredible growth food banks have seen and how they’re investing in their future during a time of uncertainty. Tune in as we chat about:

  • What digital acceleration has looked like for food banks over the last two years (13:25)
  • Current areas food banks are investing in (18:40)
  • How food banks can effectively staff digital teams (24:50)
  • How food banks can prepare for the uncertainty ahead (32:00)

Meet our guest

Lindsey Iero Headshot-1

Lindsey Iero

Director of Direct Marketing Fundraising Services, Feeding America

“When you start talking about inflation and the possibility of a recession, that conversation effects food banks in two different ways. One is just core to people facing hunger, right? The cost of food is up at grocery stores 10 percent … Now more than ever, inflation is helping us understand the tough choices people facing hunger make every day. And that needs to be at the core of our fundraising appeals. If that wasn’t enough, food banks aren’t immune to those rising prices either.”    

Podcast transcript

Justin McCord: Welcome to Group Thinkers, everyone. I'm your host, Justin McCord. I've got Ronnie Richard with me and today's guest for the episode, Lindsey Iero of Feeding America. Lindsey, welcome.

Lindsey Iero: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me. You guys work with so many Feeding America food banks. So whenever we get the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations with you, I look forward to it. So, thanks. Thanks again.

Justin: Likewise, likewise. Lindsey, OK, so you were just saying off screen, off camera, off recording or whatever, you threw out that Pod Save America is one of your favorite podcasts. So, I'm just kind of, like, we do this thing and we're upwards … I mean, we've been doing this now, what, Ronnie, four years? Three years?

Ronnie Richard: Something like that. About, yeah, three or four years.

Justin: We've done a lot of episodes, and I don't know that I've ever really talked about other podcasts, like, outside. Just … so I'm curious, Lindsey, what other, what are the things you listen to if you aren't listening to Pod Save America? What other podcasts are in your short list of things that you regularly tune into?

Lindsey: Great question. So, I will say my podcast consumption has gone down significantly since I no longer have a driving commute to work. But my favorites are definitely Pod Save America, Pop Culture Happy Hour on NPR and Brené Brown. Those would be my top three.

Justin: All right. Cool, a little bit of everything in there. But it helps kind of add a little dimension to who we know that you are, right, whenever you hear those things. Ronnie, what about you? I don't know, how much of an avid podcast listener are you?

Ronnie: Well, like Lindsey said, I used to listen to podcasts when I had a 40-minute commute each way to and from work at a previous job. Now that I'm working from home all the time, really, only ones I listen to are fantasy sports podcasts. Just trying to get some tips. Fantasy Pros being the primary one. So it’s gone down quite a bit, my podcast consumption.

Justin: We’re not doing a good job of marketing the podcast that we’re on to you guys. We keep talking about not listening. It’s not the way to start. But it’s real. But it’s real.

Yeah, I mean, I, so earlier this year, I fell into the rabbit hole around Dead Eyes. Dead Eyes, the podcast, which was a kind of a pop culture-related, Tom Hanks-related podcast. And so, it was a series, and I had to make time. I would go on very long walks for hours at a time, and my wife would be, like, where are you? What are you doing? Like, I'm listening to Tom Hanks stuff. Don't worry about it. Like, I'm just, I'm trying to … so Dead Eyes and so on. I have been a Dax Shepard fan for a long time. And so, Armchair Expert is definitely one that I like to listen to, and then Think Fast Talk Smart is one kind of in the communication space that I would like to listen to as well.

So yeah, you know, like I said, Lindsey, it adds some dimension, right, to when we learn those things.

So, so Group Thinkers, on each and every episode, we bring someone in from the nonprofit space that's got an interesting or unique point of view. Lindsey, you've told us that you have that, so we're trusting you with that today. But you definitely do. You definitely have a unique point of view in this. Being able to see across the landscape of what's happening in one particular sector with food banks gives us tremendous interest in your perspective and point of view.

And so on each and every episode we try to dive in on a topic and just understand as much of it as possible so that our listening audience can then take it and apply some learnings or be challenged in what they're doing. And hopefully it's something that helps them continue to move their fundraising and marketing forward. So, yeah.

So, Lindsey, super excited to have you, Director of Direct Marketing Fundraising Services at Feeding America. How did you get to Feeding America? Like, talk us through your journey and how you went from the, well, I don't want to ruin your journey, but you've touched the agency side, you've touched the client side, and now you're kind of client-agency, weird hybrid combo. So, talk us through your journey.

Lindsey: Yeah, that's exactly it. Well, I started my career at digital and marketing agencies. I worked for a variety of for-profit clients. And after about a decade, was just looking for that change. Wanted something that felt just more purposeful; really interested in being in a mission-oriented organization. You know, from being in the agency world, you can be working 10-, 12-, 14-hour days. Burnout is real. And while I wasn't opposed to working those kind of hours, I wanted to really feel like I was doing it for a reason and I could feel good about the work that I was doing when I came home at the end of the day.

So, I really appreciated my time in the agency world. I got exposed to a lot of different clients in different sectors, but I was really ready to just fully immerse myself in one organization, one program, one mission, and was just so excited when there was an opportunity at Feeding America. I joined the team in 2014 as Director of Digital Engagement at the time, and in that role I oversaw, the social media program, email program and all online fundraising.

So, it was really the first chance that I had to apply that digital marketing background in the nonprofit space and really learn the nuts and bolts of fundraising. After about three years, I was starting a family. I wanted to move back to Northeast Ohio, which is where I'm from, and I had a chance to transition to become the Director of Development at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. So it was a great opportunity to expand my fundraising experience beyond just the online space, to include direct mail as well as major gifts, grant making, corporate giving, special events, and really learn about food bank operations and programs on the ground. That's where I lived through the early months of the pandemic, and I can honestly say that there is nowhere else I would have wanted to be during that time.

And then early last year, in 2021, I had the opportunity to come back to Feeding America in my current role on the network fundraising services team. So, our group is part of the Strategic Capacity Development Department, and we support food banks across the country with their fundraising efforts. And I'm specifically focused on developing resources and services to help increase that direct and digital fundraising capacity. So, as you kind of said, it's really the perfect blend of my past experience at the food bank, at Feeding America and even in the agency world to kind of be almost an in-house kind of consultant or agency for food banks across the country and really help them with all of their digital and direct fundraising needs.

Justin: So you know, you're looked at, you are seen as a consultant and a guide, right. And a resource. But you've got such a wide client base. So talk about some of the challenges that you and your team face in providing ongoing strategic consultation and/or helping build capacity for teams that tend to be very thin, right? And certainly thin and/or strapped from the last two years.

Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it is a really unique and interesting role because I do think that, you know, we look at ourselves as consultants, but in a lot of ways, we're also connectors, and we're conveners. You know, we don't do this work for the network. We do it with the network. It's really about recognizing that there are incredible best practices and case studies across the network that everyone can learn from. And we really see our role as being able to collect those and highlight them and take some of the legwork out of the network members to do that level of best-practice-sharing on their own but to kind of operationalize it.

But you know, to your point, like you said, it's a really diverse network, and there's a saying, ‘If you've been to one food bank, you've been to one food bank.’ At this point, I've probably been to maybe 20 or 25 food banks. And I can say that is very true. There are definitely through lines and similarities between all of the different members, which is what makes the network so incredible and amazing because you can share these best practices in case studies, but each community is different. Each food bank is different. The way that their fundraising or their marketing department is organized and staffed is different, their technology is different. And so we need to really recognize that. And we'll try to think about where there are some similarities, where we can really lean in to where those similarities are and where there are differences. We really have to take the approach that we're going to meet members where they are and recognize those unique aspects of their program and know that we're not going to be able to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

Justin: Yeah, I think that's super important. That's an area where, Lindsey, I appreciate that there's, like, mindfulness in how we work with the food bank clients that we work with in terms of providing outsourced fundraising services. And the way that the network works with them is that it can't be one size fits all. It can't even be one size fits most because each one is different, and each one has nuances both in its operational makeup, right, and the leadership styles within the market that it serves, like, there are so many variables.

And so you're right, being able to draw upon best practices and inspire each other and educate each other and help each other but not replicate.

Lindsey: Right, I think that's an important distinction there.

Justin: So, you are a part of the group that transitioned jobs in the midst of the pandemic. So, I definitely want to hear a little bit about that. But I really know, Lindsey, we're landing the plane on this episode on conversations that we've been having about digital transformation. And we're moving into a handful of episodes that are dedicated to unpacking and wrestling with uncertainty. And you can't have one without the other right now, right?

Digital transformation brings with it some level of uncertainty. The last two years have brought with them an incredible amount of uncertainty. And the road ahead is definitely paved with uncertainty. So talk to us a little bit about that acceleration in digital over the last two-ish years and what that has looked like for food banks in general, how they've wrestled with the uncertainty and the lean in on digital and the common pieces of strategy and guidance that you've been providing even recently as they think about what the road ahead looks like.

Lindsey: Yeah, yeah. I mean, like I said, I was at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank during 2020. So I was able to see just the huge increase in online giving firsthand at my former food bank. And now I get to see at this macro level the data that's coming in and the conversations and the trends that we're hearing from the network.

You know, overall, online giving exceeded direct mail for the first time ever across the Feeding America Network in 2020. And we know from data that RKD has shared that about 70% of new donors in those first couple of months of the pandemic were acquired online. So, there was no question that there was this acceleration, as you said, for giving in that online channel.

Online giving across the network has grown 420% since 2019, which is one of those numbers that it's hard to even wrap your head around. You know, the majority of that growth took place between 19 to 20. But even when we look at fiscal 22, 21, we still saw a 45% increase year over year. You know, in fact, if you exclude the incredibly generous gifts from Mackenzie Scott to the network members, last year, online giving was the largest source of revenue across the network, hands down.

So, all of those stats just point to the importance of this online channel. I think what we saw across the network was that some food banks were more ready for that shift than others. Some had the kind of infrastructure in place, the systems in place, the processes optimized donation forms, while others weren't necessarily as prepared to capture that huge increase of online gifts. And that has caused some differences in terms of how folks continue to respond.

One example of that is with monthly donations, we saw a huge influx from just a strategy perspective and wanting to focus on monthly donors as a way of really being able to continue to steward, but really retain, these donors who were interested in giving at the beginning of the pandemic, and some food banks had more established monthly giving programs ready to go versus those who were kind of quickly trying to stand up those programs to really take advantage of what opportunities existed with that kind of sustained, recurring giving.

But we have seen monthly givers increase tremendously through the network, 50% to 60% year-over-year gains in the number of monthly donors, which was really encouraging for us as we know that folks have been so laser focused on the idea of retention and really trying to understand what these new COVID donors looked like, how they were going to behave both in the short term and in the long term, but monthly giving and online giving really go hand in hand.

And I've been really encouraged to see just the way that the network has embraced that strategy. We have a network lead monthly donor group, so there are two network members who basically volunteered and put out a call to other network members to say, hey, is this something you're all interested in? We can have monthly meetings, we can talk about this, we can share facts. They have a dedicated Yammer group and a really, really well-oiled machine at this point. The group's been around for about 18 months now, and that's a perfect example of where we love to see that type of energy bubble up from the network. It's not something that is Feeding America led, but we're there to support them however we can, giving them Yammer groups and other kind of technology to enable those conversations; arming them with data from our network activity report. So, they really understand what those trends look like across the network, and they can be talking about where they are in terms of benchmarks with their peers.

So, there’s just been a lot of organic growth in that space. And it’s just been really exciting to see how folks have really embraced the opportunity of taking a digital first approach.

Ronnie: Yeah, Lindsay, sustainer growth is so key right now, and it's something that, beyond just food banks, I know every nonprofit is looking for ways to bring in monthly donors. You've kind of mentioned that one of the key things before going into the pandemic was, for lack of a better term, sort of the haves and have nots of who had a digital program that was established and who was a little bit behind. As we're looking kind of now and looking forward, what are some of the areas you're seeing that food banks are investing in when it comes to online, whether it's channels or technology or tools or whatever, like what are some of the things? And realizing that this is a range, from the size of the food bank and the complexity of their programs. But so, what are they kind of looking at? And then, what is Feeding America doing to sort of help them through this process?

Lindsey: Yeah, yeah. You know, a couple of big buckets come to mind. The first is just staffing overall, regardless if you're talking about online giving or just the increase in fundraising as a whole. But when it comes to digital growth, I think staffing is a big piece, whether it's just dedicating someone to direct marketing, an annual fund or for food banks who maybe already have that role in place, looking for somebody dedicated for the digital program. So, a lot of staffing conversations are happening across the network.

The second area would be technology. As you kind of said, you know, software and processes were really pressure tested during the pandemic with just the huge influx in the number of donors, the number of gifts, many food banks outgrew their existing systems. And thankfully, that increase in fundraising has allowed them to reinvest in their technology for that sustainable long-term growth. And there's a lot of components of that technology piece. So we have folks who are looking at just a donor database migration. We have seen food banks who are looking at what their CRM is or their online fundraising platform or email marketing system, and also a lot of focus and attention in terms of how their marketing and fundraising tech stack is linked and what technology is needed to really make sure that those different softwares are working well together. The data is being shared and syncs between them to really unlock the ability to do really strong digital fundraising, which at its heart is segmentation, personalization, analytics, making business data-driven decisions. So, so technology has been another big area.

And then I would say … and I intentionally say it third because I think it's important the other two elements are in order, before this last investment area is really paid digital media. So, before putting a ton of additional media into driving more traffic to your website or more donors, I think having the staffing and the technology piece in place is really critical. But we have also seen an increase in paid digital media and a lot of analysis between how much of my acquisition budget should I be investing offline versus online. And we've definitely been trying to talk to members about the importance of it's not about robbing Peter to pay Paul. We're not just moving money from mail online, but let's really think about what this holistic investment should look like. What's the right balance to get to that long-term growth and donor value that we're really trying to achieve? And this one is an area where I think there has been a little bit more of a struggle. Food bank fundraising programs have largely been built on direct mail. And over time, leadership CEOs, CFOs, board members, they have become accustomed to seeing a fundraising budget with a big line item for direct mail, and they become comfortable with it. But as soon as you start to say, here's … we're reducing this a little bit, but we're going to invest over here in the online space. All of a sudden, that unknown budget item falls under a lot of scrutiny. They want to know what the ROI is.

There's also sometimes this perception that, like, online is supposed to be free; doesn't cost the same amount to send an email as it does mail because there's not hard production and postage costs or there's a perception that, you know, really good social media, you just need to hire somebody out of college who, like, gets social. So the investment and the paid digital media, I think, is really key, but it's also where we have to do the most legwork. It's a little bit of an uphill battle to really make a really strong case for that investment. And I think that's one area where Feeding America can really help support food banks, is allowing them to have the benchmarks that they need, just a really strong case and structure for what that investment should look like over a period of time. And what the return is going to be so that they feel really empowered to go to their leadership and make a really strong case for investment in this area.

Justin: It feels like you should probably have a network-led group on how to talk to your board about digital marketing like that. That's a very narrow area, but one that probably it's a frequent conversation, right? It's a very frequent conversation.

Lindsey: It is. I mean, it's funny you say that because it's almost like message testing, right? Like, things to say, things not to say. Like, my meeting went off the rails because I made the mistake of saying this and, you know, don't follow in my footsteps. But, yeah, you're exactly right.

Justin: So I want to break those three apart just a little bit and talk about in a few, just slightly more detail. So on the staffing side, here's something that I'm curious about, and I know it's a range, but generally our experience has been that folks, when they bring on and try to bolster their digital teams internally, they're looking for either the more strategic thinker, planner, organizer or the more doer. And a lot of times what people, the doer are being the person that's going to execute. And sometimes that's with an external partner. Sometimes it's not with an external partner. More often than not, I think my perception is that people want to find the unicorn. That's the combo. Before I move on to the technology, can you just kind of speak to that? Maybe it's just from the outside of the network looking in, and that's just more across nonprofits as a whole. But typically, what do you find that food banks, when they're staffing up on the digital side, what are they looking for? They're looking for the more strategic piece or the more execution piece, or they're looking for the unicorn?

Lindsey: It's a great question. I would say that they're probably looking for the unicorn. Historically, though, it has probably been a little bit more of the execution, the doer. I think part of that is tied to the digital space sometimes feeling a little overwhelming. If you don't understand these platforms, they can be intimidating. And so you want someone who can understand it, can go in, can, can do all the things. And so because of that, I think that there's probably been a little bit more focus on the execution side than on the strategy side.

Now, what I would say is if you're hiring this digital person, it should be part of your IT, should be part of your overall fundraising strategy. And whoever is responsible for developing that strategy should at least be able to connect the dots between the fundraising strategy and the online channel. And we've had a lot of conversations with fundraising leaders across the network about this. Online fundraising isn't supposed to be the part of your fundraising program that you essentially carve out for interns or entry level staff, right? That fundraising leaders have a role to play. When you talk about the importance of integrating digital into your program as a whole, and that a lot of the exact same principles and practices that everyone knows and is comfortable with from the offline space and for direct mail apply in the digital space too. If anything, in some cases, they're easier, they're quicker, they're more efficient.

So really getting folks to not be so intimidated by the channel but really think about how our tried and true fundraising strategies still apply. How you think about segmentation, how you think about testing the same principles that you are accustomed to from direct mail can apply in the digital space. It's really at that point more about how they're being executed at the channel level, and that's where you might want a little bit more of an execution expert.

But to your point, the unicorn is what brings those two things together, and you need to have that connection between strategy and execution. I would just argue that it's not about one person. It's about how the team works together and how leaders can connect dots from strategy to execution and executed, can really come in and talk about how execution can also drive strategy a little bit and where there are opportunities within different platforms or different channels within the digital space, to take advantage of those to really meet whatever your overarching fundraising objectives and goals are as well.

Justin: I mean, it's so well said. And I think that we've seen this accelerate as digital has taken on a new life in the last couple of years. And it's actually kind of moved up to the adult table. And I don't mean that in a way like, you know, I mean, Lindsey, you're a digital native, right? You've got that in your DNA from, as you said, your kind of first posts on the agency side.

I, too, started and cut my teeth in digital, but it seems like you have to pay attention to it now as a part of a major cog of how you organize and go into market to both attract and acquire and convert new donors and maintain communication with other donors in the same way that in our own personal lives, like, we have to pay attention to the way that we communicate digitally with people because that's just how people communicate now, right? So I appreciate so much of what you're saying there. It's that, yeah, digital is all grown up, and so we need to treat it that way and make sure that in terms of the way that we're orchestrating our strategy, we're not even thinking about it in a binary direct mail and digital scenario, but that it is about how we communicate across platforms, etc., etc., et cetera.

Lindsey: Yeah, yeah, you're exactly right. And, like I said, you know, while the unicorn is great, there are pitfalls on both sides, and where we would love to just lean in to where there are opportunities too. So, for a leader at a, you know, a fundraising lead at a food bank, I am not expecting them to know HTML and to be able to edit an email and even necessarily deploy an email in their system. But, it's really important for them to know and understand the role that email plays and how it connects to the rest of their program.

Likewise, somebody who is more on the execution side might know that you can do this really cool thing on XYZ social platform, but if it doesn't map back to the overall fundraising objectives and goals, then you shouldn't do it just because you can.

So I think that that's where there's almost, like, kind of checks and balances in place. And really trying to pull those two worlds of strategy and execution together is where you're going to see the most success for your program.

Justin: And it spins off a whole new level of data. It's just like data, shrapnel now that's thrown off through everything that's happening in digital, which to your point is why evaluating your systems, making sure that your technology is in place. And so you get the right people, and then you have the right tools, systems, processes.

And ideally, what blossoms, as you said, is being able to take more sophisticated approaches, like with paid media in your market and across new platforms. So it paints a great picture. But then as we look ahead, there is still a looming cloud of uncertainty.

Now, as you pointed out, food banks have, they've turned into mints in the last two years. Like, it's just incredible the amount of attention that they are getting, right? And the ability for people to give back into their community, it's impressive on a whole different level.

There's uncertainty about is that the new normal or is there going to be a fall off? There's uncertainty about, you know, maintaining as many of these COVID-related donors as possible. And what that looks like. Now, there's uncertainty around, ‘I'm taking my events back to in-person, but do I also still need to do a hybrid or a virtual because that increases my costs, which can impact my net.’ There's all these really complex decisions. And then there's things like inflation and recession and costs going up.

And so, I'm not Chicken Little. I'm not saying the sky's falling, but I'm pointing out, like, there's all this uncertainty. When you hear that from the network, what do you say?

Lindsey: You know, I think that the pandemic has really changed our overall mentality, right? The resilience that we have seen across this network over the last two years is absolutely incredible. I know that I sat in the early days of the pandemic at my former Food bank, it was running a marathon at a sprint pace. And that marathon has now been going on for two years.

But I would say, what has changed over the course of the last year or so is that we were able to become a little less reactive, a little bit more proactive, recognize that resilience, and could really plan for the future. So, there was that the drinking from the fire hose the first few months, not really knowing how long this pandemic was going to last. I think most of us thought we were measuring it in weeks or in months, certainly not years. Once we could kind of catch our breath, the network really turned to sustainability and sustaining that long-term growth. And I think that mentality has been so critical.

We've talked about the importance of operating from a mentality of abundance instead of scarcity. And I think that with the fundraising team and partnership with finance teams and leadership and board, there has been a lot of focus on how the generous outpouring of support during the pandemic was really going to ensure that it was going to last as long as it needed to, even after that huge surge in giving started to decline. So, there has just been a lot of planful conversations between fundraising, between financing and operations and programs, to make sure that resilience is just in place.

But I think that you're exactly right. When you start talking about inflation and the possibility of a recession, that conversation affects food banks in two different ways. One is just core to people facing hunger, right? The cost of food is up at grocery stores 10 percent. That probably doesn't come as a surprise to any of us because you're probably feeling it in your household budget. I know I am.

But households that are low income, they spend about a third of their budget on food. So, they're forced to make impossible choices between groceries and other necessities, which we also know are on the rise: rent, medicine, transportation. We all know what it is to fill up our gas tanks right now. So now more than ever, inflation is helping us to understand the tough choices that people facing hunger have to make every single day. And that really needs to be at the core of our fundraising appeals.

If that wasn't enough, food banks aren't immune to those rising prices either. So, every aspect of food bank operations is seeing significant increases, whether it's from purchasing product to transporting product. Food banks are moving twice as many truckloads right now in comparison to where they were before the pandemic. But costs for transportation are up 20 percent. Food banks are paying 40 percent more to purchase food, to meet that increase in demand and to make up for fewer food donations or less government product.

So, it's creating these gaps in operating budgets that really need to be filled by fundraising and private support. So that kind of two-fold impact of inflation is really what should be at the core of our cases for support right now. And really helping supporters understand, really paint a picture for what it is for people facing hunger right now, what it means to work in a food bank and what it's going to take for all of us to work together to really get through the next couple of years.

Justin: And one of the ways that you're helping provide support is by, one, staying on top of the trends, right? Between resources that you provide and ways that you're helping think through what it looks like if someone is seeing a softening in gifts, if someone's acquisition is slowing down compared to the last two years.

Talk a little bit about that as we kind of land this conversation and the way of cutting through uncertainty that our frame of reference is, one, just because there's uncertainty doesn't mean that you don't peel back, but you act smartly. Right? You have to act smartly. You have to continue to be resilient, as you said. But then just talk about the way that you're using data to help the network navigate that.

Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, we talked about this a lot during the pandemic. And I think that the same thing is true today, which is, you know, you can only control what's in your control. You've got to recognize and be smart about what those external factors are, but you can't be paralyzed by them. Turning to data in those times can feel a little reassuring.

So, one thing that we have done back at the beginning of the pandemic, our team worked with the Boston Consulting Group to create basically a fundraising projection model. And at the time, the goal was to really understand how high this surge in giving was going to be, how long it was going to last, and what kind of a return to a new baseline was going to look like.

It was only based on probably two or three weeks’ worth of data in March. So really, really at the beginning of the pandemic, but at least gave us something to look at as a network and some kind of predictive roadmap for us as to at least expect or to follow. Over time, we've continued to update that model with actuals from the network every quarter. And as we've been able to fuel it with more and more data, and as we've gotten a little further out from the beginning of the pandemic, that model has become more and more reliable.

And I know from my time in Cleveland, I used that model when I was doing my first COVID budget, at least to have my forecast rooted in something that was coming from a third party source that was data informed that I could share with leadership and the board to say, ‘You know what, I don't know how fuzzy my crystal ball is, but at least I'm not just pulling this out of thin air. It's rooted in some kind of data.’

And we've seen the model get more and more reliable. We've also started to create kind of subsets of the model. So now we have versions that are broken out by the size of your fundraising team, your food bank quartiles. So, we look at food banks and quartiles across the network, as well as environmental peer groups. And we've armed food banks with essentially a worksheet that gives them all of the base model assumptions and then allows them to make adjustments as they see fit for their programs. In terms of the compound annual growth assumptions that are built into that model, we've seen it be really more reliable.

In 2021, the network exceeded the best-case scenario at the end of last year during the holiday season and into Q1 of this calendar year. But we have been hearing just anecdotally from the network that there has been a softening in performance in Q2. So, as many folks wrap up not just their quarter but their fiscal year over the next couple of days, we're going to be really interested in seeing the Q2 data that we'll get in July and start to analyze that in August and see if we need to make any adjustments to this model, just given how performance has just started to soften over the last couple of months.

And to your point earlier, looking at if we need to make adjustments to account for inflation and a recession, I think we also need to think about if there are going to be other giving priorities leading up to the midterm election, including reproductive rights and gun control, and if those factors need to be taken into consideration as well.

But it is one area where we can look at that data at an aggregate level and give it back to the network in a way that is hopefully really actionable for them, at least as one input for their budgeting and their forecast moving forward.

Justin: It's such an invaluable resource, and none of us know exactly what. We don't know what tomorrow holds, much less the third quarter and fourth quarter and then the next year. But we believe that data can be our light in the darkness, right? To help us. We may not have all … it may not shine a bright light wide, but it helps us stay on a path. And so, I applaud you and your team of, one, putting this in motion, of the work that you did early on with BCG.

But then, second, continuing to refine and arm the network so that they can stay out front. If nothing else, it should give them a peace of mind, of one less piece of uncertainty. So, you know, I think that that's a wonderful thing that you're doing in the midst of all the good things, Lindsay, that you and your team do to help food banks across the country.

So, well, I think that takes us really to the end of our time today. Ronnie, is there anything that we missed?

Ronnie: I can't think of anything. I think we covered it pretty well. I just had one quick follow up for Lindsey. Just out of my curiosity, the model, how far does it look into the future? Is it three years? Five years? I'm just curious.

Justin: Well, it’s a model. It's not a magic eight ball. It doesn’t, you know …

Ronnie: Certainly.

Lindsey: No, it is set right now to go through the end of fiscal 24. And that's essentially when the model has us returning to kind of standard new baseline for compound annual growth. So the model right now is based on compound annual growth against 2019. And by the end of fiscal 23, 24, that's when we would be returning to essentially 5% to 6% compound annual growth, which is what we saw before the pandemic. But really, it's a slow softening between now and then.

Ronnie: Very cool.

Justin: Very, very cool. Love that. You have these data-oriented tools to help empower decisions, the way that you're fostering knowledge, share within the network and helping them understand whether or not it's continuing to take a step forward and maturing in digital and transformation or navigating uncertainty. You really are providing such wisdom and guidance.

So, on behalf of our food bank clients, thank you for what you do for them, Lindsey, and certainly the partnership that we have with you of helping share data and understand what's happening from what we see, from what you see, et cetera.

You know, I talk about this frequently with my wife, who's in the education space. So, you know, this is a time that's fraught with uncertainty. But there's something about that and the opportunity to work in the midst of this uncertainty to help find new ways to do things that are core to what we do, like whether or not it's teach children, provide for those who are food insecure or even just help fundraise.

There's something that is motivating and encouraging about being able to work through the uncertainties that we have right now. So, thank you for what you do, and thanks for giving us some of your time this morning to chat and talk about things that are happening with the network and amongst your team.

Lindsey: Yeah, I mean, our motto or battle cry on my team is, sharing is caring. So the network hears us say that regularly. I'm sure I share resources and data with the RKD team under that banner as well. Like I said earlier, you know, we really, we want to share all of the great work that's going on across the network. It is really a Herculean effort that Food Bankers are performing right now. And we just want to do what we can to really lift that work up and help them learn from one another. But you all are partners in that work as well. So that gratitude is shared with you as well. And that kind of sharing is a caring spirit.

I think you're exactly right. I know for myself that I can have a lot of pent-up anxiety. And it is really nice to come to work and feel like there is a way to channel that energy in a good way and really feel like you're rolling up your sleeves and trying to do what you can to make a little bit of a difference. So thank you for having these kinds of conversations and just creating the space for them as well.

Justin: If you want to get connected with Lindsey, you can find her on LinkedIn. It's Lindsey I-E-R-O which is almost the phonetic like that almost e-ear-o. So connect with her there, and you can continue the conversations with her there. You can always reach out to Ronnie and I as well.

We appreciate you all checking out this episode of Group Thinkers. And just a nudge, all of our episodes are available on Spotify and Apple and on the RKD Group website, along with plenty of other resources for nonprofit marketing and fundraising folks. So that's it for this episode.

Again, thanks to Lindsey for sitting in this morning and chatting a little bit about what's happening in food bank space and, yeah, that's it. Well, we'll see you next time. See you down the road.

Group Thinkers is a production of RKD Group. For more information, visit RKD Special thanks to our production team, including the talented Ryan Mellinger for his work on mixing every episode. Also a shout out to the content team that helps pull together research and guests, puts the marketing efforts behind Group Thinkers, Suzanne, Ronnie and others for their work on this and every episode of Group Thinkers.


RKD Group

RKD Group is North America's leading fundraising and marketing services provider to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, social service, disease research, animal welfare, rescue missions, and faith-based charities. RKD Group’s omnichannel approach leverages technology, advanced data science and award-winning strategic and creative leadership to accelerate net revenue growth, build long-term donor relationships and drive online and offline engagements and donations. With a growing team of professionals, RKD Group creates breakthroughs never thought possible.

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