An initiative developed for the Virginia Food Access Network
Live Client Project
Background: When the First Lady of Virginia asked teams of Brandcenter students to volunteer to work on a cause project for the Virginia Food Access Network, our team jumped at the opportunity. Not only did we feel honored to be working on a cause so dear to the First Lady, but we were extremely humbled to potentially create work that would benefit our fellow Virginians.
The Ask: How does the Virginia Food Access Network (VFAN) improve usage of its website, especially the data stories and analytics tools, to ultimately facilitate food access throughout Virginia.
Problem: The VFAN website is stagnant and complicated. Users sign up to be part of the network, but often don't know what to do with the site due to the complexity and ambiguity of the data stories and information provided. Therefore, they end up not utilizing it, or even forgetting that it exists.
Research: We reached out to both current "subscribers" to the site, as well as members of the food access community to get more information about how they interact, or would interact, with VFAN. What we found through multiple interviews, is that the number one concern of food access organizations is their financial security, not finding connections or information about the food access network in VA. Through analysis of select publicly available financial statements, we determined that the average Virginian food bank budget is derived from 70% private contributions, 19% government fees and grants, and 11% programs and service fees. Ultimately 90% of these funds go directly to program services, while 7% is spent on fundraising and 3% is spent on management. With such little room to pay for overhead, organizations often rely heavily on volunteers. Volunteers save an organization roughly $28 each hour they are present. FeedMore Virginia valued the 160,563 hours served with them at $4,488,468. But we recognized that it's not just manual labor or transportation that can save these organizations money; people can donate marketing and design know-how, financial knowledge, and clerical assistance as well.
What We Heard:
"Funding is always our number one problem." -Virginia Peninsula Food Bank
"The demand for our services is increasing constantly, but our budget stays the same." - Appalachian Sustainable Development
"We tap the same few donors and granters every year--- if just one doesn't pull through, that means we can't serve thousands of people." -Colonial Heights Food Bank
Insight: Food access organizations, including those who subscribe to VFAN, first need to be secure financially before they can begin to effectively use the resources of the Virginia Food Access Network, particularly the data stories.
Approach: Using VFAN to not only connect organizations that fight hunger to data stories, but also leverage that data to connect food access organizations and people to the resources they need. Ultimately this will develop stronger, healthier food access organizations. We specifically focused on bolstering the volunteer network, which ultimately saves these organizations money. Both able bodied and able minded people want to donate their time to food access causes, but there isn't a central place for them to do so.
Rationale: Financial security is the number one concern for food access organizations. Alleviating part, or all, of this concern allows them to expand program efforts and focus on growing their reach. It also gives them a reason to want to look at the data stories on the VFAN site as they seek to further their reach outside of their local service area.
Strategy: Grow Virginia's Growers.
Target: Food access organizations (food banks, farmers, educators, etc.) as well as able minded and able bodied volunteers interested in assisting them.