Despite improvements in the North Carolina economy since the Great Recession, nearly 1.8 million of our residents lack sufficient food each month. That’s nearly one in six of our neighbors! Even worse, this is true for nearly one in four children under the age of five.
North Carolina’s Association of Feeding America Food Banks fights this hunger daily by providing food to a network of more than 2,500 partner soup kitchens, pantries, after-school programs and senior feeding centers in all 100 counties of the state. Mustering the volunteers, infrastructure and food sources is a massive business challenge for each of our seven food banks. The vital task of getting food in, and food out as quickly as possible, can be all consuming. It is often difficult for our food banks to stop, assess and learn.
IBM reached out to us and developed two IBM Impact Grants – one for Leadership, the other for Social Media – to help us build our organizational skills and connect more effectively with new audiences of donors and volunteers. Delivered via two training sessions, the pro bono consulting engagements succeeded in helping participants build stronger skill sets and improve collaboration among our seven independent food banks.
The Leadership Training session brought together executives and senior staff from food banks in North and South Carolina for the first time. Prior to the session, I met with IBM trainers Larry Pastor and Cathy Fillare to help them get a feel for our organization. Our meeting facilitated the development of what turned out to be a fast-paced, interactive meeting that engaged even our most seasoned and knowledgeable staff.
A significant feature of the session was a set of directed exercises focused on Fundraising and Development; Marketing, Branding and External Communications; Food Procurement and Purchasing; and Grassroots Advocacy. The facilitators broke our team into small groups – each tasked with identifying new solutions to old problems, and developing collaborative protocols for implementing them. A significant outcome of our discussions was the Board of Directors’ subsequent decision to revisit and revise our strategic plan.
The benefits of the leadership training extended beyond the two-day session. Participants returned to their home offices equipped with strategies and techniques to convey to their teams. Particularly helpful were exercises to help groups identify personality and work styles, and to evaluate and improve collaboration and leadership skills. We greatly appreciated the usefulness of this component of the Impact Grant.
Meanwhile, the IBM Impact Grant for Social Media session proved helpful for participants with a variety of skill levels. Most of us wear a variety of hats, including being responsible for business communications and social media. Learning effective social media techniques not only helps us raise public awareness for our programs, it also helps us remain informed and “on message” across our network of offices.
Both separately and together, the two IBM Impact Grants delivered capabilities that we otherwise would not have had access to. The training and new perspectives already are helping us increase our visibility and serve our clients better, and we look forward to continued improvement as we integrate some of IBM’s strategies and tactics into our daily operations.
Alan Briggs is Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Feeding America Food Banks. IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager Steve Pearson facilitated delivery of the IBM Impact Grants.
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