Digital reinvention for the nonprofit organization: How Central Texas Food Bank’s digital strategy improves lives

By Jenni Klinger

Digital reinvention isn’t just for the enterprise — there’s also digital reinvention for the nonprofit sector. These organizations need to upgrade their technology to keep up with donor preferences, increase the efficiency of their processes and reach those who need them most. A study on UK charities determined that 50 percent of nonprofits don’t have a digital strategy, but 80 percent of those that work at them want their leadership teams to provide a clear plan on what technology they should be using and how it can help them. Those at nonprofits want to digitally reinvent, but they just need some guidance on how to start.

My team and I had the opportunity to volunteer at our local area’s food bank, the Central Texas Food Bank, which serves people from 21 counties in central Texas — an area twice the size of Massachusetts. It provides free meals, cooking classes and healthy eating education to more than 46,000 people each week.

IBM Mobile team at Central Texas Food Bank

Members of the IBM Mobile team volunteer at Central Texas Food Bank

Connecting fresh meals to those in need

In 2016, the Central Texas Food Bank distributed 34 million pounds of food and saved 18.7 million pounds of food that would have otherwise been thrown away. Despite these impressive numbers, there were still 400 million pounds of food that ended up in a landfill in Austin alone.

The food bank knew something had to change, and it knew exactly where to start: by upgrading their processes with digital solutions.

While we worked on the warehouse floor sorting nonperishables, there were systems running to ensure people in need of healthy food were getting it. One such system is MealConnect, a web-based app developed by Feeding America and used by food banks throughout the US. The app helps get excess food from events and businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, conferences and weddings to people in the surrounding community who need it most. It works by eliminating the cumbersome paperwork that was once necessary for donors to fill out and fax over to the Central Texas Food Bank. This allows fresh, hot meals to quickly get to soup kitchens and local food pantries where they’re distributed to the people who need them most.

Throughout the country, MealConnect has saved 333 million pounds of food, delivered 738 million meals and made 737,000 donor pickups.

IBM employees filling food boxes at the Central Texas Food Bank

IBM employees packing food boxes on the Central Texas Food Bank warehouse floor

Digitally reinventing to do the most good

Not only do processes need to be constantly upgraded to make them more efficient and, as a result, do more good, fundraising and outreach methodologies need to change to keep up with donor behaviors.

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of American adults — 95 percent — own a mobile phone. And now, the percentage of those who own a smartphone is at 77 percent — over a 100 percent increase from 2011. So, it’s no surprise mobile donations have increased 80 percent since 2013 and 18 percent of all donations come from mobile devices.

Nonprofits need to be where their donors are, and donors are on their phones. By providing easy ways for people to donate, such as through text-to-give initiatives, responsive websites or mobile apps, nonprofits are able to increase the size of their donations by 38 percent.

Not only does technology help to reach donors, but it also helps to find those who need these resources the most. Through the successful use of data, Feeding America is able to visualize local food insecurity in its annual Map the Meal Gap project. Food banks across the US can use this information to focus their efforts on the most food-insecure areas.

Screenshot of Central Texas from the Map the Meal Gap Project from Feeding America

Map the Meal Gap project from Feeding America

Digital reinvention for the nonprofit helps to ensure a majority of effort is going into the organization’s mission and data is being used to its fullest potential. By implementing a digital strategy, nonprofits are able to reach more donors, strategically give aid and help improve as many lives as possible.

Written By

Jenni Klinger

Blog Manager, IBM Mobile

Jenni Klinger is a web content manager with experience running blogs and creating email campaigns and content strategies. She's worked with tech companies creating editorial calendars, blog posts, and web content plans. Prior to joining IBM, Jenni worked at a university in Australia…

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