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March 2020—Impact In Action

Kate became the executive director of Waste Not in April 2018. At the time, the organization was a bit fragile and in need of not only a financial restructuring, but an entire infrastructure overhaul. As she was making her rounds as the new ED, she found a kindred spirit in Dave Richins, the CEO of United Food Bank. Like Kate, Dave was somewhat new in his role as CEO and he was incredibly excited about the mission.

“There was a great staff that wanted to do great work… but we were struggling with our cash flow,” Dave said.

So, when Kate mentioned that Waste Not was also looking to lower their operating costs and looking for a partner, the two started seeing a way to fix their financial burdens through collaboration. When Kate and Dave started exploring the partnership with their respective boards, Waste Not’s board echoed Kate’s biggest concern: protecting Waste Not’s brand. “Waste Not has been at this mission for over 30 years,” Kate said, explaining Waste Not’s success. “We’re the only one that serves that niche, no one is doing what we’re doing.”

Dave and the board of United Food Bank similarly wanted to ensure that Waste Not was able not only to keep its brand, but for the two organizations to start going after new opportunities that neither could win before, such as Feeding America’s MealConnectTM platform. Described aptly as “Tinder + Uber for food recovery,” the platform was a dream tool for United Food Bank and Waste Not. “We couldn’t compete for the grant without Waste Not, and Waste Not didn’t have the backing at the time,” Dave said.

So when the organizations officially came together, they “applied for it before the ink was dry on our partnership.” However, as both Kate and Dave noted, it wasn’t all rainbows and flowers. Any time two groups of such radically different sizes come together, growing pains are inevitable.

“Exploring the merger is great,” Dave said, “but there is considerable time and expense before, during, and after the transition period.”

The integration of UFB and Waste Not took place prior to the launch of Arizona Together for Impact and did not have access to the resources Together for Impact now offers. “Looking back,” said Kate, “I would have taken it slower and involved a consultant… I would have paid a lot more attention to culture as well as strategy.”

Dave echoed that idea, but added that “part of the charm was making the mistakes along the way… We had to own the outcomes that come from hard work. If you develop the muscles while you garden, you’re going to make sure it’s watered.”

While it’s only been a few months since they entered the formal affiliate partnership, both Kate and Dave are already seeing the results. Both organizations have righted their financial picture, are operating stronger, improving their standards and finding new ways to collaborate.

When asked about what advice they would give other nonprofit leaders considering a permanent collaboration, Kate said, “approach this as a strategy for growth for your organization… don’t wait until there is an emergency.”

Both Kate and Dave spoke to the need to “grow the pot together.” “To me, my competition is McDonalds, it’s Gucci, it’s Volkswagen,” Dave said. “We’re competing against companies who have millions in marketing budgets to fight for the consumer’s dollars. We’re just asking for a small donation.”

To Kate and Dave, the best way to succeed in the missions of their nonprofits is through collaboration. “Until nonprofits understand that we are all in this together, finding ways to lower cost and do better, we won’t succeed.” Kate, of the same mind, said that she “feels like these partnerships are the future of nonprofits. Through this, we can utilize the donated dollar a lot more effectively” than constantly fighting for it.

While the two organizations are still working through their growing pains, both are incredibly excited about the future. And, the next time Waste Not gets an alert from MealConnectTM or takes on a challenge as big as the Waste Management Open, they won’t have to scramble for extra support. Instead, they can lean on their partner, United Food Bank.