Virtual Food Drive – Northern Illinois Food Bank

Pop quiz: What type of bar crawl has no alcohol, no bars and no attendees?  If you answered a terrible bar crawl that you would never attend, that’s true.  However the answer for our project team turned out to be a virtual food drive that raised over $1000 for the Northern Illinois Food Bank.  Confused yet?  We’ll explain.


Our project team started as an attempt to raise money for Growing Power’s Iron Street Urban Farm, a 7 acre site on Chicago’s south side that produces healthy, sustainable food year-round.  The team’s original plan was to hold a bar crawl on the city’s north side, targeting fellow DePaul students and combining a fun event with an opportunity to raise money and awareness for a local organization.  The curveball came when our team was informed that a bar crawl might not be the best representation of DePaul to the community, and we were faced with our first challenge to change course.   The good news is that we had not yet invested any money into the project, but the bad news was that we had already invested time and effort into kick starting an ambitious project.  To further complicate matters, we lost a team member with significant marketing and graphic skills along the way to another team.  Not exactly an auspicious start.


So like any project team, we were forced to deal with the challenges encountered.  In our favor was the fact that each team member had already presented an idea for a charity event, so we had three alternates ready to review.  We selected the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) as our charity, which turned out to be an excellent choice for reasons we’ll detail later.  At the beginning though, this decision had its own set of challenges.  The team had wanted to hold a physical food drive in addition to a virtual drive, while promoting the food drive throughout the entire Chicago area.  Once again we encountered roadblocks, with NIFB requiring team members to drive hours west to pick up physical food drive boxes while limiting our team to promoting the event within Lake County, Illinois, to avoid territory conflicts with the Chicago food charities.  Yes, that’s right.  We almost got into a food drive turf war!  Who knew?


In some respects, it made the project easier by requiring focus and targeted effort on the virtual food drive only.  More importantly, the NIFB more than made up for the restrictions by supplying a ready-made, interactive website with unique links for our DePaul Kellstadt food drive.  The team decided to shoot for a goal of $1,000 based on input from the NIFB on previous food drives, and we went to work putting out the word.  Marketing efforts included sending out emails and flyers, as well as Facebook and Twitter messages.  The team also solicited donations personally, reaching out to family, friends and coworkers.


With all the drama aside, and our team focused on leveraging our social and personal networks, the project turned out to be a clear success.  The end results were netted $1,165 in donations over a 3 week span, with an average donation of $40.  Even more impressive is what the Northern Illinois Food Bank can do with that money.  With their buying power and distribution network, the NIFB is able to create 6 meals out of every single dollar donated.  Don’t worry, we’ll do the math for you – that equates to 6,990 meals for our neighbors in northern Illinois!  Considering where the team started, we felt proud to have contributed to our community at that level.


In the process, we learned quite a bit about the effort it takes to put on a charity event.  First and foremost, the next time you’re out at a bar event or get an email asking for a donation, keep in mind how much work really goes into the process and consider giving, even just a few bucks.  If you want to embark on your own charity event project, we would advise you to vet the chosen charity carefully.  Issues seen in our selection process or by other teams included willingness to communicate and support the event by the charity.  It may seem counterintuitive that a charity doesn’t want your help raising money, but in reality they only have so many volunteers or staff available to work with different teams.  Also watch out for charities that may ignite controversy or are not well known.  This isn’t to say they should be avoided, but just realize more effort will be required to get the results.  Our team could not have asked for a better partner than the Northern Illinois Food Bank – communicative, supportive, web-enabled, flexible, fast acting – you name it, and it made all the difference.


Along those lines, another piece of advice would be that professionalism and name recognition can go a long way to allay security or privacy concerns in a web or virtual environment.  One of our highest rated risks going into the project was a concern that donors would be unwilling to provide personal and financial information on a website to make a donation relatively blindly.  The NIFB had an excellent website, and although that could have been created by anyone, it conveyed a professional, secure environment.  They also stated very clearly their privacy policy upfront, and did not store any financial information.  These may be taken for granted in today’s world, but even losing a few donations due to a shoddy web design would be a shame.


That brings us to a clear lesson learned – be careful when leveraging your personal or social networks.  We all have “that friend” that constantly sends links to charities and events and who-knows-what.  This charity drive worked in part because our team had members that could approach their family and friends with a request for donation.  People are bombarded daily with ads and requests of all types, so teams need to realize that generic, mass mailings are likely to be overlooked.  Targeted, focused and most important, personal requests for donations were very effective for us.


Taking it all in, clearly project teams need to be willing and ready to adapt to change.  Our charity changed, our event changed, our team changed, our approach changed – you get the picture.  And unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence when it comes to projects.  As usual, the only guarantee is that something significant will change.  You can’t control everything, so when things change around you, respond in kind quickly and thoughtfully.  Then once those items have changed, realized that assumptions made previously may no longer be valid.  Everything in your project has to be on the table; be prepared to recast your movie, change the script, the set location and sometimes the plot.


And that, is how a bar crawl with no people, no bars and no attendees was a resounding success.  What’s your best meandering path project?  How different have your outcomes been from original estimates?


One thought on “Virtual Food Drive – Northern Illinois Food Bank

  1. This is a great example of how a project manager deals with changes on a daily base. What was the original idea of the project, quickly changed due to restrictions. The project manager had to come up with a different project guideline and navigate his team onto the new charity event. It is not an easy task to do, given time and effort was devoted towards the first project but a necessary step to take. The great strategy of this team was that they had back up options to rely on and focused on their goal which was to help out a charity event. There were obstacles to overcome, but with their persistence and guidance of their project manager, they were able to achieve their goal.

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