When the news broke a few months back about my nonprofit Swipe Out Hunger acquiring the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), we received an overwhelming positive response alongside a dose of skepticism about the term “acquire.”
“Acquire? What are you, a corporation?”
From our beginnings more than ten years ago, I designed Swipe Out Hunger to be anything but a traditional charity. Rather than running the same program each year, we learn and adapt our work—from acquiring other nonprofits to writing legislation that moves us closer to actually ending the issue of college student hunger.
While more and more in our sector push for real systems change, here are three practices that could advance your justice work.
- Welcome mutually beneficial partnerships.
In our early days, it always felt like we were on the team of students vs. the world. While this excited and galvanized our student community, it also left us disconnected from major systems that needed our influence. As changemakers, we need activists working outside of and within the system.Without compromising our values, we established transformative partnerships. Yes, for-profit companies will always be beholden to their shareholders but we understood where we had power. We’ve been able to leverage food systems and supply chains for good by pushing limits, pulling levers, and reaching scales of impact. We’ve also walked away from the table when a proposed partnership hasn’t properly prioritized our students.
- Dispel the myth that all social impact requires martyrdom.
The new generation of leaders knows that this work is not a sprint nor a marathon, it is a relay race. Developing a team culture of self-care and support has been central to our evolution, especially over these last two years.A hopeful trend in our sector is the push for transparency (thanks to leaders like Blue Avocado and Nonprofit AF), including listing salaries in job descriptions––and that salaries are becoming more competitive. Providing a living wage and comprehensive benefits allows our team to know that their mission of making the world a better place doesn’t come at the expense of their own basic needs and ability to plan their future. Begin where you can and set the intention of growing organizational capacity to better support staff.
- Deal-making shouldn’t be taboo.
Last year, our nonprofit partner CUFBA—a beloved, highly regarded, and expert association—asked us if we’d carry their work forward as their infrastructure wasn’t where they needed it to be.With my organization’s expanded capacity and our deep mission alignment, the answer was an overwhelming yes. This was a chance to bring CUFBA’s wealth of resources under one roof and ultimately, better serve our community of students, administrators, and advocates who are invested in ending student hunger. This meant formally acquiring them. Instead of using lukewarm and vague language like “partnering,” we called it what it was. Swipe Out Hunger wasn’t simply partnering with CUFBA; we absorbed their organization and clear communication on where the campus could now find these resources was essential. Together, we worked to integrate their best practices into our curriculum to ensure our entire campus network has access to the tools, guides, and information to bolster food security efforts. With impact in mind, as part of this integration, we required new campuses to go through our partnership process which ensured integrity in our numbers.This resulted in our campus network expanding by a groundbreaking 285%: massive growth in our reach which will help us reach millions more students.
What out-of-the-traditional-nonprofit-box strategy might your movement benefit from? Applying entrepreneurial values where appropriate allows us to achieve progress toward the issues we’ve been working to solve, once and for all.
In case you missed it…
Rachel Sumekh is the Founder & CEO of Swipe Out Hunger. The organization is the leading nonprofit in addressing hunger amongst college students. Her work has been recognized by The Obama White House and landed her on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list. Swipe Out Hunger began in 2010 with a few friends at UCLA and has since grown onto over 430 universities, serving 2.5 million nourishing meals. Swipe Out Hunger promotes on-campus solutions, policy and advocacy, and student empowerment practices to address college food insecurity. Rachel helped write the Hunger Free Campus Bill which has since sent $70+ million to anti-hunger programs on campus.
Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.