When did you first hear about Foodbank? For me, it was when I was hounded by a man who worked for a food storage and shipping centre in Western Sydney, six years ago. Foodbank was a relatively small warehouse trying to get food to people who needed it. They were raising $300,000 a year, mostly from government and grants. Cut to today and Foodbank is a household name. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you that Foodbank is there for hungry Australians, giving them food and preserving dignity.

If you’re a numbers person, like me, you’ll be staggered by the success. Foodbank’s fundraising has grown by 1225% in the last five years. In human-talk, their fundraising has rocketed from $300,000 a year to $11.6 million. Check out the graph below, which I love sharing with people. It’s mind-blowing.

How did we get there? It was centred around a long-term fundraising strategy with five phases, and we only consid-ered long-term impact, not short-term campaign or financial year results.

I’m going to share the five phases with you today, so that you can make moves to grow your own charity in the same way. Three of them are still in progress.

Phase one, Year one: Proposition. Acquisition. Onboarding.

The board, CEO and that very persistent man I mentioned, gathered us into a room and asked, “So how do we do fundraising?” It was a total blank slate. My most recent work was with Guide Dogs — I had presented at a conference around Guide Dogs’ growth, and members of the Foodbank team were in the audience and they wanted me to do the same for them. I had a clear blueprint for success.

Donor Republic started with proposition development — Foodbank needed to know what they stood for and why they stood for it. The thing with Guide Dogs was they had puppies. And people love puppies. So, I needed to find Foodbank’s
puppy: What is the puppy? Are they one or many puppies? How does it work? Who do you help? Why do you help them? How much does it cost?

As it turned out, Foodbank had quite a few puppy propositions, but the main one for donor acquisition was hungry children. The School Breakfast Club. This later expanded into single parents, the elderly, the farmer, the struggling family — the list went on.

Critically, we had to bring positive emotion to what many considered to be a transport and logistics company — mateship, community, camaraderie, joy, togetherness — and also showcase some need-led emotion such as dignity, shame, and guilt. The rational and emotional propositions we put together live on today. Like I said, if you ask anyone what Foodbank does, they feed the hungry, they don’t fund men driving trucks.

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The next piece of work in phase one was investing in a database and donors. Now we had a rock-solid proposition, we invested in acquisition programs. It all started with direct mail as it’s reliable and sustainable fundraising. But our team knew acquiring donors was not enough. We needed to retain them. So, we developed onboarding and welcome journeys to ensure donors felt valued and appreciated.

Phase two: building on the platform of donors we acquired and making sure they remained Foodbank donors — retention.

After acquisition and onboarding we transitioned into retention. That involved donor surveys, donor outcomes, donor love, donor thank you events and multiple channels. You donate to Foodbank; you get rewarded and thanked. This is where we became obsessive about second gift rate, because it’s a good determinant of lifetime value. It soon showed us that people were loving the propositions we developed and were feeling loved. This phase is one of the most important. One that gives the team at Donor Republic the most joy. Donor love really is all about the warm and fuzzies and showing people the incredible difference they make.

Phase three: integration with digital, regular giving, events.

We’re in this phase now — and it’s exciting! Watch this space for even more incredible growth at Foodbank, and great new events you can join to help feed your hungry neighbours in Australia.

Phases four and five: in production, but the plan has been laid out.

The plan for phase four is to deepen mass donor relationships, identify potential major donors, corporate partners and opportunities for gifts in wills. Finally, in phase five, Foodbank should capitalise on their arsenal of supporters and the strength and gravitas they have in terms of social say. Having grown to be a major player on the frontline of hunger, they can use the credibility, leverage, support and reach they’ve got to make real change for Australians in need.

Throughout our journey with Foodbank, perseverance has played a vital role. There were challenges and setbacks, but we stayed committed to the long-term vision. As success fluctuated, I reminded the board and team that fundraising programs have ups and downs, and it’s essential to stick to the plan, principles, and processes we established. Open communication, regular check-ins and alignment of goals between our team and Foodbank’s board were critical for success.Looking at the incredible growth achieved, it’s vitally important to note Foodbank implemented 100% of Donor Republic’s recommendations without hesitation.

This level of commitment and will-ingness played a significant role in the outstanding results we achieved. And that’s not one-sided; we all listened to each other to understand Foodbank’s needs. I’m incredibly proud of the team and results that have grown out of one man, who would not leave me alone, from Rooty Hill.

And if you want to see the same results for your charity, give me a call. We could be a great team full of mutual respect, trust and outstanding results too. F&P.

In 2016, Andrew Sabatino co-founded Donor Republic, which has grown to be the most sought-after fundraising and marketing agency in Australia and New Zealand.