Lubbock, Texas—The South Plains Food Bank, Inc. was founded in the town of Lubbock, Texas, in 1983. Organized as an initiative of United Way, the food bank's mission was not only to feed hungry people in the community, but also to improve the quality of their lives.
Since then, the food bank has grown exponentially.
Through a network of food bank agencies, the South Plains Food Bank serves thirty-one counties in Texas and roughly 84,000 people every year. The South Plains Food Bank has also helped to start other food banks in nearby communities, such as Abilene and San Angelo.
David Weaver, executive director of the South Plains Food Bank since 1997, says that the food bank's annual number of clients makes sense when you examine the poverty ratio in Lubbock, 10%, and in the surrounding rural areas, where that number rises to around 25-30%. Children are especially affected, with one in four children considered "food insecure."
"You just don't realize the extent of hunger and food insecurities in our community right now," Weaver says. He was reminded of that fact recently when he saw a friend from his school days receiving food from the loading dock of the food bank.
Weaver says that the South Plains Food Bank attracts clients and donors because of how unique it is. The food bank started its own farms and orchards because they lacked access to fresh produce. As a result, they are now able to provide their clients with tomatoes, squash, eggplants, apples, and much more.
"Clients always comment about how much they appreciate the fresh produce, because they would never be able to afford it in a grocery store," he says.
Though the food bank's impact on people's lives is great, the financial support it received prior to Benevon was lacking.
Weaver says that the food bank used direct mail as its primary source of fundraising. When he and his team began to examine their process however, they realized that only 2,000 of their 6,000 donors were active, and they only interacted with those 2,000 people once a year.
"We didn't have the money we needed to continue to expand, and provide our services," Weaver says.
Like many organizations, Weaver and his team bought Terry Axelrod's books and tried to self-implement her methods. But Weaver says they weren't successful because they weren't able to be systematic about the process.
It wasn't until a food bank colleague in Oklahoma urged Weaver to consider fully adopting the Benevon Model that he decided he and his team should attend a training session.
"We finally decided to commit because we realized what a tremendous difference the coaching made—the value of having a third party to be accountable to," he says.
Benevon coaches immediately impressed the importance of cultivation.
Weaver's team began revisiting their roster of donors, deciphering who among them seemed to truly be interested in helping. Those people were invited to the food bank's Point of Entry, the "Free Box Luncheon Tour," where they hear stories and see the dedicated staff.
The team also invites donors to roundtables at the food bank, which serve as Free Feel-Good Cultivation Events. These conversations take place in the food bank's kitchen, where the chef prepares both breakfast for the roundtable guests, and food for the day's clients. The roundtables are a chance to get feedback from donors, to thank them, and to explain what their support has provided.
"Benevon has given me the confidence to go out and talk to people," Weaver says. "I make sure they know that we are able to provide our services because they are supporting us. If we didn't have their partnership, we wouldn't be feeding anybody."
The tours and the round table sessions are two ways that Weaver's team has been transforming once-distant, direct mail donors into personal donors who are closely connected to the mission of the food bank.
The approach has worked. In their first year with Benevon, the food bank raised $100,000, with results increasing each year thereafter. Weaver says his team is aiming to raise $600,000 at their next Ask Event.
"The cultivation approach that we're taking has really allowed us to develop major gifts in a much more significant way," Weaver says. "The opportunity to get to know our donors better, and let them get to know us better has allowed us to have conversations about planned giving. Because we're out there telling our story, the people who are passionate and want to get engaged, do."
The food bank team uses the cultivation approach in other areas as well. They are now cultivating their food donors in the same way they cultivate financial donors.
Weaver says that in the end it isn't about the food bank, but the community it serves. Nothing would please him more than to see the food bank be put out of business.
"You can read all the books in the world, but until you start putting those tools into practice, they're just going to be sitting on a shelf," Weaver says. "Benevon is the catalyst carrying us forward by taking us to the next level of looking to the future, to the dreams and goals we have for our organization, by getting our board involved, and getting our staff and volunteers energized by laying out practical steps we need to be taking on a daily basis. We're working as a team now."
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