An Interview With Emelie Irving, Executive Director, Southeast Texas Food Bank
"We only do direct-mail fundraising," Irving says. "We do have an annual Food and Fund Drive that's sponsored by the local media outlet. We don't pay for that or organize that; we are just the recipients.
"We don't have a development staff, so direct mail is a very efficient way for us to fundraise and it's been very successful."
In 2004, when Irving realized the organization desperately needed to start active fundraising, it took a Herculean effort for her to convince board members that spending money to make money was the way to go. They just didn't get it, thinking mainly that asking for donations would offend people and reflect badly on the organization. Then, of course, there was the cost. Board members were terrified that not only would the organization lose money, but that the food bank wouldn't even recoup its losses.
"What really probably got people to agree was that I was so convinced and so sure that this would be successful," she says. "Was I really as sure as I presented it? Not really ... but I believed it would be successful. I really projected absolute confidence in [direct mail]. If I had wavered even a second, they wouldn't have gone for it.
"I went so far out on a limb with this," Irving adds, with a barely audible sigh of relief. "If this hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here right now. It is very expensive. Acquisition in particular is very expensive."
Irving says it took three months, three board meetings, many one-on-one conversations and a whole lot of hand holding for her to get the OK to make the investment. One she did, she felt there was only one way to go — hire an agency.
That might seem counterintuitive in a small organization with limited resources, but Irving wouldn't have it any other way. And the risk paid off — the food bank, which partnered with Russ Reid — sees a higher-than-average (10 percent to 12 percent) response rate on its acquisition and cultivation efforts.