Food for Thought: An Interview With Emelie Irving, Executive Director, Southeast Texas Food Bank
You've heard of development offices that are "one-man" shows. Perhaps you work for one of them and are that one man (or woman, of course).
But just as prevalent are small organizations that have no development team at all, and fundraising duties fall heavily onto the shoulders of someone whose job title doesn't include "chief development officer" or anything like it.
Very often, that person is the CEO or executive director. Such is the case with the Southeast Texas Food Bank, located in Beaumont, Texas. According to the organization's website at setxfoodbank.org, one in every four children and 15 percent of the elderly in Texas live in poverty. The Southeast Texas Food Bank serves the counties of Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Jasper, Newton, Polk, Sabine and Tyler. It distributes to approximately 130 nonprofit agencies within those eight counties. More than 16,000 households receive food each month from the food bank's member agencies, and approximately 200,000 meals are prepared each month with food provided by the food bank.
When the food bank was incorporated in 1991, it did no fundraising whatsoever, according to Executive Director Emelie Irving. By 2004, its budget was hovering around $700,000 to $800,000.
"When we were incorporated in 1991, we were begging, borrowing ... anything but stealing," Irving says. "We had no donors. Well, we had two donor names. My husband and myself were one, and one of our board members and her husband were another. We were trying to survive on grants and little events.
"Before we began direct-mail fundraising, we did not fundraise. There were several attempts to have an event, but with minimal success," she adds. "We needed real money."
The food bank now has 25,000 donors in its database, and its annual operating budget has grown to $1.9 million. The growth in itself is extraordinary — but even more so when you realize the organization has no fundraising staff and only actively solicits donations through direct mail. A little bit of money comes in online — and there are plans to try to grow that amount — but the only active solicitation it does is through direct mail.