Monday, June 10, 2013


A nonprofit can encompass many different terms. Whether it be charity, philanthropy, social good, impact, finances, mission, vision...the list could go on. One thing I know for sure and something that I have seen through varying experiences with nonprofits is that there is always a new obstacle to get over each time that you walk into the office. These obstacles can be donor relations, securing funds, coordinating with volunteers, and the continual management of staff and the board. All of these and more call for a great amount of flexibility and perseverance in order for a nonprofit to remain successful and advance in their mission. But these obstacles can also provide for a large amount of uncertainty.    

This morning I met with Pamela Irvine, the President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia. I learned a lot and it was very enlightening to see her point-of-view of the state of food insecurity in Southwest Virginia and our nation. Honestly, it is a glaring and very large problem but, today, there is much work being done and innovative processes being put in place to combat the problem of hunger. One such process is simply viewing a food bank with a different mindset. Instead of viewing it as a warehouse where food comes in and then is shipped out, it is viewed as a multi-million dollar food distribution system that is complex and sophisticated. This food system calls for business principles to manage finances and for streamlined logistics that help in the distribution of an estimated 22 million pounds of food from Feeding America Southwest Virginia each year. It also calls for accurate record keeping to ensure accountability with partner agencies and the clients they serve to satisfy various regulatory groups. Then there is development which strives each and every day to secure funding through grants, private donations, partnerships, and fundraising events, while also being sure to create awareness through creative and effective marketing. All of this is part of a strategic plan which is used to make sure that FASWVA is moving forward and achieving their goals in combating hunger.

The business concept and principles, as well as the programming, are really good. But, then, the reality that Feeding America Southwest Virginia is a nonprofit comes to light and the uncertainty of it all shows through. There may be days where it's a struggle to find funds to keep a cherished program alive. A truck that hauls food may break down, the roof to the food bank may begin leaking, a large supplier of food can no longer give, or an employee decides to retire or leave. The uncertainty creeps in and provides for very challenging moments in the nonprofit world. For me, this is where the life of it all is - the opportunity to participate in a realm that is full of unexpected obstacles but that all lead to serving others and providing for a community in need. I asked Pamela this morning what she wished she would have known when she started working for food banks, something she could share with me as I am just getting started in my journey.

And she said, It's really hard feeding people and it takes a lot of work, but in the end it is so rewarding to see the uncertainty turn to miraculous moments of change at Feeding America Southwest Virginia and among the so many people that we serve.

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