Aidan Reilly was a junior at Brown University and a documentary filmmaker when the pandemic struck in 2020. He returned to his hometown of Los Angeles where he opted to find impactful stories in the city. After speaking with some frontline workers at his local food bank, he discovered the nonprofit was running out of food. On top of that, he read an article about wasted food as the result of supply chain breakdowns.
“I figured these were two problems that could help solve one another, so I started cold-calling farmers around Los Angeles, and renting a U-Haul to pick up surplus food and deliver it to my food bank,” Reilly, now the co-founder and head of partnerships at The Farmlink Project, said.
As the nonprofit grew, so did its volunteer base of students from around the country who assisted in shipment coordination. These efforts resulted in the organization having moved more than 100 million pounds of food in every state, as well as Mexico, since its inception.
In addition, The Farmlink Project has grown to 25 full-time employees, but technology plays a large role in both its communication and coordination efforts.
“By the time our team had grown to over 100 people logging over 40 hours a week, we used online tools like Slack to coordinate everything,” he said. “In fact, for the first year of our organization, very few people on the team of 600-plus had ever met in person, including meeting any donors, farmers, or food bank employees.”
Reilly will be presenting at this year’s inaugural BridgeTECH, a tech-focused event for nonprofit executives, fundraisers and marketers on Aug. 2 at the 18th annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference. In the closing keynote, Reilly will talk about the nonprofit’s success and reliance on technology to fulfill his mission. In addition, he will share a video on Farmlink’s success.
NonProfit PRO caught up with Reilly to learn more about his work in nonprofit technology and how his nonprofit has benefitted from utilizing volunteers’ technological capabilities and relying on technology advancements in lieu of having a call center to field calls from farmers.
What impact has technology had on your nonprofit?
Three answers — connectivity, tracking, and efficiency.
Firstly, as I mentioned previously, we have relied entirely on tech platforms to meet, connect, and engage people around the globe. We have created YouTube videos with over 100 million views on YouTube, engaged donors from over 20 countries through online outreach, and have always run our organization completely virtually.
In regards to tracking, we have designed and implemented a system that tracks every pound of food moved — down to the amount of emissions we avoided from rescuing that food, which has truly set a new standard for the food rescue industry.
In regards to efficiency, we are building a system, which not only tracks that food, but will use machine learning to begin to predict where, why, when, and how we can expect food going to waste, therefore establishing our organization as not simply a reactive solution, but a proactive one.
What is the biggest struggle nonprofits have with technology and how has your nonprofit overcome that struggle?
Nonprofits around the world face a common issue of constantly needing to raise new resources through the form of donations. When you are stuck in this endless cycle of raising money in order to exist, you become stuck in the day-to-day. You simply do not have the time, energy or manpower to learn and adopt new solutions. You’re too busy carrying out your powerful mission.
Our program has been lucky enough to have the incredible resource of hundreds of young people volunteering, who have brought their background interests, such as machine learning, coding and data tracking into our work. We were able to capture lightning in a bottle in 2020, which gave us a leg up in regards to having the resources to explore new solutions always, which we continue to make a top priority today.
Why is it so important for nonprofits to embrace technology regardless of staff size, revenue, overhead misconceptions, etc.?
Efficiency. Nowadays, we can hire two individuals to work 10-hour days to field incoming calls from farmers, or we can build a tool that automatically fields and sifts the relevant information from those calls or text messages before forwarding to the appropriate person. This is one example of the ways that an organization can save money and save time by adopting new solutions. [These are] two things all nonprofits need more of.
What will you be presenting at BridgeTECH and why are you passionate about the subject?
As a recent college graduate working in a field [that] has been around for decades, I feel a sense of responsibility to have one ear listening to the traditional and time-tested methods of this business, and the other ear paying attention to new solutions that might make it better. We are not here to reinvent the wheel, we’re here to provide aid and solutions to an otherwise time-tested system.
Join Us at BridgeTECH
Listen to Reilly share more about The Farmlink Project at BridgeTECH on Aug. 2 at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Sign up for BridgeTECH and the Bridge Conference by selecting the "BridgeTECH + Bridge" option.