The nonprofit Feeding South Florida had a problem: how to handle tens of millions of pounds of food yearly in a more efficient way. Auto distributor JM Family Enterprises, a long-time supporter, came up with a solution. It assigned members of its process improvement team to spend weeks at the food bank and design a new system.
The result: a 60 percent jump in food handled per volunteer, allowing the food bank to get more canned goods, perishables and other items to church groups, pantries and other customers more quickly.
Forget about simply writing a check. Companies increasingly are offering their expertise to nonprofits in a deeper collaboration that brings benefits to both. The nonprofits get specialized help that they may not have been able to afford. And the businesses produce a greater community impact, an important lure for Millennials in their 20s and 30s who want to work for companies that make a difference, experts say.
“It’s a better, stronger and more holistic partnership,” said Kelly Alvarez Vitale, president of consulting group Strategic Philanthropy in Fort Lauderdale. “Cash is still king, but companies now are looking at their strengths and building those into their corporate philanthropy to make a bigger impact.”
JM Family Enterprises, a practitioner of Toyota’s system of continuous improvement, long had backed Feeding South Florida, the largest food bank for the southeast Florida region. Its staff for years have served on the nonprofit’s board, and it mobilizes groups of employees as volunteers to pack food.
So, it was a logical step to help the nonprofit improve its food-handling, said Kim Bentley, assistant vice president of corporate philanthropy at JM’s headquarters in Deerfield Beach.
For starters, the JM team took pictures and video of the current system and the layout of sorting areas.
Staff saw some immediate areas for improvement: Break down the process into steps, and train volunteers only on the step they’ll do. That slashed training time by at least 25 minutes.
In addition, tape cheat-sheets on each table with answers to frequently-asked questions. That cut down on consultations and boosted the time dedicated to inspect, categorize and pack the food.
Next, the team revamped placement of conveyor belts and tables to ensure faster flow of food, said JM’s process specialist Lynne Laquian, a former building architect.
Plus, it clocked handling operations to better plan how many pallets to bring in each session, so that volunteers would not run out of food to handle, said JM’s audit specialist Thad Wood.
Feeding South Florida CEO Paco Velez said he now realizes how much little things can add up.
“If it takes you 30 seconds to do something and you pass it on and the next person does their part in 2 seconds, then there are 28 seconds when that person is waiting for something to do,” said Velez.
With the new system, he’s found volunteers feel more useful and more satisfied. And JM’s training of his staff in process improvement has his group looking more at systems and standardizing procedures.
“The biggest lesson for our team: Be hard on the process and easy on the people,” said Velez.
Feeding South Florida had tapped corporate skills earlier from its Pembroke Park headquarters.
Staff from delivery giant DHL helped the food bank improve routing for its trucks. And JM’s information-technology specialist, Eddie Rivera, has been helping the nonprofit for months to find ways to better integrate its diverse computer systems and better manage IT needs.
Philanthropy expert Vitale said the squeeze on cash created by the Great Recession helped to shift more companies into what many call “skills-based volunteerism.”
Now, as the economy improves, both nonprofits and businesses recognize the power of those deeper links, she said. Nonprofits find that companies involved in their operations tend to stay engaged longer. And companies find professionals appreciate the chance to use their expertise for community service.
By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel
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