After 25 years and millions of dollars raised for charities, Food For All is looking to do even more.
The Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit organization, which was launched a quarter-century ago as the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger, is looking to leverage its fund-raising acumen for more than just hunger relief and apply it to other forms of charitable fund raising.
This year, the organization experimented with that new formula, running a breast cancer awareness campaign for Albertsons LLC and a handful of other retailers that followed the model of its turnkey hunger campaigns. In the Food For All campaigns, the organization supplies point-of-purchase display materials that allow customers to make donations to local charities at checkout by scanning a UPC code.
The cancer campaign at Albertsons was “enormously successful,” said Denis Zegar, president and chief executive officer, Food For All, in an interview with SN.
“This was kind of a pilot year for us this past year,” he said. “We are building on what we call our continuity programs.”
Every year, starting in early to mid-November, Food For All coordinates huge holiday-season fund-raising promotions with dozens of retailers around the country using the scan code tear-off slips in denominations of $1, $3 and $5. It is the group's main fund-raising event for the year, although some retailers also participate in other events in the summer and again in September for Hunger Awareness Month.
What Food For All is hoping to do, however, is to string together charitable promotions that run all year long, so retailers could theoretically transition nonstop from one scan-based charitable promotion to the next.
“We are looking for something to fill in the rest of the time, because we have nothing between January and mid-June.” Zegar explained.
The expansion beyond food-related domestic charities came after discussing the concept with retailers, who Zegar said appreciate the simplicity of Food For All's turnkey programs. Those discussions led the group to seek to apply the model to other fund-raising efforts as well.
“Now we have retailers who would like us to run other campaigns for them that involve other things beside hunger,” Zegar explained. “The idea is that this would all be done through Food For All, so when one campaign is done, the retailer just tears down the board, puts a new board up, and it becomes a continuous program with Food For All.
“While some might argue that we are getting out of our realm, with things like breast cancer awareness, we are really not,” he continued. “What we are is a marketing program for the retailer, to increase the relationship they have with their communities in a cost-effective way. I think it's really important that we look at all aspects of what we do in order to provide a better service to our retailers in the areas that are important to them in their communities.”
Having more year-round continuity programs would be more cost-effective for Food For All as well, he explained.
The fees Food For All collects for running these campaigns — a percentage of the proceeds, which varies by retailer — go toward funding its international programs, which was the basis for founding the organization in the first place, and toward Food For All's minimal overhead.
Although the organization originally funneled all of its proceeds toward international hunger-relief efforts, today international accounts for about 10% of the funds Food For All raises throughout the year, with the other 90% going toward domestic programs. By seeking to roll out more types of fund-raisers in partnership with retailers, Food For All hopes to expand the funding it obtains for its efforts overseas.
“We are gaining additional income that can fund more and more of our international programs, and that funding has been more and more difficult to come by over the years,” Zegar said. “We were founded on the principle of international hunger, so we have to find ways in which we can continue with that.”
The international charities Food For All supplies financing for provide “the most bang for the buck,” Zegar explained. The low overhead for administering the charities in those countries, combined with the fact that Food For All works directly with non-government organizations, means that the money raised can be used very effectively.
“Funding international programs is still one of the best things we do,” Zegar said. “For $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000, sometimes you can make an entire village self-sufficient.”
Food For All was created in 1985 by food retailing executives seeking to contribute to eradicating world hunger, and today it funds a range of programs that promote self-sufficiency in impoverished regions all over the globe.
While individual retailers select the local charities they support through Food For All, on the international side Food For All works with NGOs to find programs that it deems appropriate. Lately, it has been supporting “microfinance” development, through which small loans are made to individuals to encourage them to start up their own revenue-producing businesses.
In Afghanistan, for example, Food For All has funded a microfinance program in which women can loan $70 to other women to buy sewing machines to launch small-scale clothing manufacturing operations.
“They make enough money to eventually pay off the sewing machine, then they buy another sewing machine for their daughter, and eventually they have a cottage industry in the village,” Zegar explained. “They become self-sufficient, they have food stability and, best of all, they have no interest in terrorism.
“We get an enormous benefit for very little money, and we don't want to give that up.”
Food For All generally gets matching grants from the foundations that approach it for funding, he said, and it commits to fund such programs for one year, with the intention that it will continue funding for another two years after that. It takes about three years for an international project to get “fully up and running,” Zegar explained.
In addition to financing these programs from the fees that it collects as a percentage of domestic fund-raisers, Food For All funnels money to international programs through direct grants it receives and through other fund-raising activities, such as promotions with manufacturers, in which the proceeds are designated to be used at Food For All's discretion.
Despite the difficult economic conditions, the fund-raising effort during the 2008 holiday season last year was relatively successful, Zegar explained. Although revenues for the year of $4.5 million declined from 2007 levels, revenues would have actually increased slightly after adjusting for a one-time promotion in 2007, Zegar said in the Food For All annual report.
This year, Food For All is encouraging its retailers to make an especially strong push during the holiday season.
“The economy always has a big impact on any charity, even though the need may be greater,” Zegar explained. “And certainly in the case of hunger, the need is greater than ever before, as we have had more and more Americans who have lost their jobs and are in need of food stability.”
The early results this year are promising, with most retailers reporting gains during the September hunger-awareness drive, Zegar told SN.
The decline in 2008, however, represents the first time in Zegar's eight years at the helm of Food For All that revenues did not increase. Usually, the amount of funds raised goes up in double digits each year, he explained.
“Running the holiday campaign this year will be a critical test for how well we do,” he said. “Typically, we do well in the holiday season, and I expect we will this year as well.”
Food For All is also looking for ways to improve its online communications, and is seeking to establish a social media presence by early next year.
In addition, Food For All is revamping its childhood obesity program, called GoZonkers, which is an exercise program for elementary schoolchildren. The anti-obesity effort was well received in its initial format, but is being redesigned to better suit underserved communities that lack physical education classes, Zegar explained.