The Cost of a Free Lunch: Transforming Food Aid Fundraising Towards Leveraging Systems Change




Barrie, Emily

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This project explores opportunities to support systemic change through the unique lens of fundraising, focusing specifically on donor relations practices, power imbalances, and the impact language has on the charitable food aid system. The primary purpose of this research study is to provide a set of recommendations for charitable food aid organizations to transform donor relations practices with the overall goal of building relationships that are geared towards leveraging long-term change within the food security system. Food insecurity is a complex problem that continues to persist despite decades of food aid, with the demand continuing to rapidly increase due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and record high inflation rates. Addressing the immediate need of hunger relief are charitable food programs that operate on a continuous need for funding, which results in a significant ongoing organizational investment in fundraising activities. Funding is crucial to sustain food program operations and continue to address the immediate need, however the demand for funding creates a cyclical and transactional relationship between charities and donors. This project explores the unintended consequences of the cycle of fundraising within the context of charitable food aid, and identifies opportunities within fundraising to promote donor relationships that are focused on affecting long-term systemic change. This project completed the following research deliverables: i) literature review, ii) current state system map analysis, iii) web-based survey with food aid fundraising professionals working at food aid charities based in the Greater Toronto Area, iiii) development of actionable recommendations for fundraisers working in food aid to implement in their practice. The literature review highlighted multiple topics relevant to this research, which informed the selection of systems theory as the conceptual framework for this project. This research draws from both Gap Analysis and Promising Practices methodologies, as well as some principles from Community Engaged Research. The current state system map analysis was conducted utilizing systems mapping within systems theory to understand the role of fundraising within the status quo of the system, and identify where change is feasible within the cycle of fundraising. The web-based survey was thematically analyzed and deductively coded to capture fundraiser perspectives on this topic and support the development of recommendations as the final project deliverable, based on the findings from both the system map and the survey. This research demonstrates that the opportunity for transformation within food aid fundraising exists, and provides recommendations for fundraising professionals for real world application.



systems change, fundraising, food security