The Goldie Company

Parley: July 2014 - A Digital Feast

Jim Bindon on how digital giving is helping make food banks healthier.

Digital giving has opened the door to a world of efficiency. People can give with the click of a button. Charitable tax receipts can be instant. For organizations, digital fundraising can make meeting campaign goals easier and faster.

“When you use the tools the public uses, you gain a deeper understanding of the ways you can engage with them,” says Jim Bindon, development director at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society. “It’s in its early days, but digital philanthropy is the future of the industry.”

Bindon and his team are investing in new digital platforms that respond to the ways we communicate. For instance, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society recently licensed a fundraising platform that will allow, among other things, supporters of the food bank to host and promote their own third-party events. Bindon estimates the food bank benefits from hundreds of third-party events per year. A digital platform will make it easier to hold those events, increase their frequency, and let volunteer hosts take the reins.

The team is also using the platform to hold “virtual food drives,” a way to further the food bank’s mandate to provide healthy, nutritious food to its members—and make food drives more cost-effective and efficient at the same time.

Where traditional food drives have been the bread-and-butter of food banks, they also have the potential to be logistical challenging. “There’s the process of delivering food boxes, picking up and sorting the food, and storing it before it is sent to the food distribution locations,” Bindon says. “The contributions of food are vitally important, but the process can sometimes be time-consuming and expensive.”

Virtual food drives give the food bank complete control over which food is available for purchase. Think of it like a wedding registry. With an online platform, the food bank can select what it needs and make it available for “purchase” by donors. For example, when a donor visits the website and notices fresh greens high on the list of needed foods, she can select a photo of a head of lettuce and drop it into her virtual shopping cart. These drives eliminate donations of heavily processed or unhealthy foods and make it possible for donors to gift the food bank with fresh, healthy produce, such as eggs, bread, milk, and vegetables.

Much of the produce that will be available for purchase will come from local farmers. “We have entered into arrangements with a number of local farmers whom we are paying to grow crops for us,” Bindon says.

Bindon says he’s embracing digital giving, mostly because it has given the food bank the latitude to customize solutions. “This is the next evolution in food drives,” he says. “It’s a great benefit to our members, and it makes contributing—whether the gift is large or small—much easier.”

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society is testing its third-party events platform this summer and is planning to fully launch the system in autumn 2014.