WHAT THE FUNDRAISING
72: Mobilize Your Mission: What Grassroots Organizing Can Teach Us about Ethical and Equitable Fundraising with Erica Chomsky-Adelson
“Everyone deserves to feed their family good food – food that they want to cook, want to share.
– Erica Chomsky-Adelson
In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…
Many nonprofits are exploring a shift away from old-school donor-centric fundraising, but are unclear about what that would look like. In this episode of What the Fundraising, Erica Chomsky-Adelson is sharing the compelling, community-centric alternative she and her team at Culture Aid NOLA (CAN) have put in place. Born at the height of the pandemic, their non-traditional food bank knits donors, volunteers, and guests together in a vibrant ecosystem of mutual support. With demand higher than ever in today’s inflationary environment, CAN distributes 30,000 pounds of barrier-free, stigma-free food to 3,000 people a week. And it’s all happening in an atmosphere of collaboration, joy, and music! (It’s New Orleans, after all …)
Prior to becoming executive director at CAN, Erica worked in the world of disaster response, which is constantly impacted by the feast-or-famine cycles of crisis-based giving. It’s a paradigm she doesn’t believe is sustainable, desirable, or equitable, so in New Orleans, she and her team have instead built a grassroots partnership designed to empower people over the long haul. There are no federal government restrictions on who is entitled to pick up groceries or artificial dividing lines between those who help, those who receive help, and those doing both (in fact, the mindset is that EVERYONE is helping in their own way).
CAN puts trust and respect at the center of every interaction. Words are carefully chosen, with maximum attention to inclusivity and the dignity of guests. You don’t want to miss this episode that will move you to reimagine fundraising and community building in the best way.
sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable
- Community-Centric Fundraising Principles, ten core principles that have been developed based on conversations over time with many fundraisers of color.
- The episode wraps with a shout-out to our sponsor, NationBuilder, whose integrated platform helps nonprofits connect with their communities at every point of entry. Click here to learn more about how NationBuilder’s tools to power nonprofits, movements, and dynamic campaigns.
- Are you feeling stuck on how to implement new fundraising practices like the ones mentioned in this episode? My VIP Day is an intensive one-to-one executive coaching experience that smashes through fundraising obstacles. Click here to learn how together we can pinpoint problems, develop a clear plan, and create content and design habits to support your nonprofit in achieving its mission.
TIPS AND TOOLS TO IMPLEMENT TODAY
Community-Centric Fundraising Principles, ten core principles that have been developed based on conversations over time with many fundraisers of color.
The episode wraps with a shout-out to our sponsor, NationBuilder, whose integrated platform helps nonprofits connect with their communities at every point of entry. Click here to learn more about how NationBuilder’s tools to power nonprofits, movements, and dynamic campaigns.
Are you feeling stuck on how to implement new fundraising practices like the ones mentioned in this episode? My VIP Day is an intensive one-to-one executive coaching experience that smashes through fundraising obstacles. Click here to learn how together we can pinpoint problems, develop a clear plan, and create content and design habits to support your nonprofit in achieving its mission.
Get to know Erica:
Erica Chomsky-Adelson is the founder and Executive Director of Culture Aid NOLA. She has worked in non-profit disaster response for 14 years with a variety of organizations. She has a B.S. in Planning and Urban Studies from The University of New Orleans.
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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Erica Chomsky-Adelson. Erica, welcome to What The Fundraising.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Hi Mallory. Thank you so much for having me today.
Mallory Erickson: I am super excited about this conversation. Why don’t we start with you introducing yourself to our listeners.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Absolutely. So I am the founder and executive director of Culture Aid NOLA, which is the no-barrier food resource for the greater New Orleans area. Aside from that, I’ve been working in disaster response and similar nonprofits for about 14 years now. Culture Aid NOLA was founded in direct response to the COVID pandemic. When things started shutting down in New Orleans, 70% of our economy is tied to tourism in one way or another. So there was a very big and very sudden loss in the community. So we started by rescuing food from restaurants that were closing down and using a small army of some really incredible chefs to cook it off and distributed to the community.
On March 23rd, 2020, we went out and cooked and served 500 meals and we were very proud of ourselves. And that is an incredible feat for the first time out but it wasn’t enough. And so the next week we went out and we searched, 700. Once again, proud of ourselves still wasn’t enough, still turning hungry families away. So the next week we went out and served 5,000 meals and it’s been growing from there.
We currently operate out of two distribution sites in New Orleans, and we are serving about 3000 people a week. We focus on fresh groceries. We believe that everyone deserves to feed their family good food, food that they want to cook, that they want to share. And we know that for people who are cash-limited or time-limited, getting to Walmart once a month to get rice and beans and frozen meat is an achievable goal. It’s the getting there every single week to buy fresh vegetables that become such a challenge for hungry and working families. So we’re able to bring those resources directly into the community and give away 30,000 pounds of food a week for free. We are a no-barrier, no stigma resource. So a lot of times there’s this misconception that if you’re hungry and trying to feed your family, you can go down to the food bank at the church on the corner and get some canned goods and be all right for the time.
For a lot of families, that’s not true. Just like some of the federal food dollar programs like SNAP, there are income limits for pantries, and they are pretty low. In the New Orleans area last year, that income limit to access even a pantry was $21,412 gross for a family of two. You can’t raise a kid on that. You just absolutely cannot raise a kid on that. Especially in the face of gentrification, rising rents, the cost of insurance, inflation, and gas, it’s insane. And these are primarily families who are trying. They are really trying and they just cannot get there on their own.
So we are working to break down some of the stigma around hunger and eradicate some of that shame. There is nothing wrong in asking for help when you need it, and you should be treated with respect and kindness and hospitality when you do. So we work towards that by hiring DJs and bands to play at each of our grocery distributions. Sometimes the volunteers will come in costumes. Sometimes we’ll have bands, and contests, we’re trying to set the expectation that this is a community event, not something that should be hidden.
Mallory Erickson: So I love the work that you do obviously. And what I’m particularly excited to talk about is how you fundraise for this work? Because I can imagine that a number of people are hearing this and hearing about the way in which you all showed up in the scene during a really urgent time and the need continues in the community and you have supported that need through some really different ways of fundraising than we typically see in disaster crisis response work in particular. So talk to me a little bit about that.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Absolutely. So we have some unique challenges in our fundraising process and let’s start all the way at the very root of the problem. America hates poor people. And that’s just it. And sometimes people’s eyes go wide when I say that but I think everyone in the nonprofit world does feel that at least at some points. So a lot of food pantries run on primarily USDA-purchased commodities and that’s great. There’s honestly so much food out there. And that’s really beautiful for families who could access it because those USDA commodities come with a lot of paperwork. And so that involves utility bill, lease, social security number, ID, proof of income. And that cuts out a lot of people because we’re no-barrier, we can’t touch government food.
We can’t be in the same room as government food. So that forces us to get really creative with our supply chains. So sometimes we are able to work with our partners and others in our network to go out and buy a semi-truck of sweet potatoes from Idaho and bring it in and share it around all over the area. And that’s really beautiful. But last year, that truck cost me $1,500 to bring in and this year it costs me $7,000. We’re working with donations from various grocery stores and wholesalers, but because of inflation and other supply chain issues, those are getting less and less. We purchase from small farmers, small locally owned, woman-owned businesses in town, but those prices are going up now. And at the same time that we’re seeing all of this breakdown we’re serving more people than ever in July. We had more families in line than we did at the height of the pandemic in summer 2020. So there’s significant hills to climb with that. And it’s complicated by the fact that since we are no-barrier and we aim to keep everything completely anonymous, we are not able to tell some of these stories that a lot of other people in our sector.
I think if you imagine some of the most common appeals that you would see from a food bank, it’s usually a picture of a hungry child or a hungry little old lady. Maybe they’re smiling because they got food. Maybe they’re holding their favorite food. And we’re telling stories, particularly on social media about what this family or this person has went through to get to this resource. We can’t do that because we’re not asking people their names. We have rules against taking pictures. And it’s a challenge to be able to get this message across about the immense need and the growing need and the value of our work without being able to push those emotional buttons for donors.
Mallory Erickson: But it sounds like you are pushing emotional buttons for donors. You’re just doing that actually in a really different way that is rooted in community building. So talk to me about some of the creativity that you’ve utilized to engage people in this work without using some of the typical methods of engaging donors.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that we’ve found has been really helpful is actually just word choice. So I’ll start by saying, I am a word nerd, words are containers for meaning, words are important. We need to be careful and respectful with them. So we’re trying to set a standard of using our words wisely. So we don’t say the word need on site. We found that when we were going up and down the line and saying, how many families do you need groceries for? People would say one or two. When we started asking how many families do you want to pick up groceries for? Or do you know anyone that could use a few more groceries? Those numbers went up and we know that hunger was there. It just wasn’t a need that was being met.
At the same time we refer to people as guests, not clients. And I think that messaging comes through in our fundraising materials. And I think that there is a value to holding that specific line as a brand standard. And I do think that resonates with our donors because it is so wildly different than what our industry is used to.
Mallory Erickson: How much transparency have you had with your donors around those choices, versus having brand guidelines around the terminology you use? How much has that been integrated into your teaching them along the way too? Talk to me about that.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Yeah, absolutely. It is very centered in our work that kind of trust and respect component is a large part of who we are and what we do. So I am constantly talking about word choice. I am constantly talking about the difference between want and need, the difference between guest and client. The difference between getting resources for someone and giving resources to someone. And our donors do absolutely respond to that. It’s often for us somewhat difficult to express the urgency and the scope of some of these needs without falling into some of those traps. Whether it’s the trap of you should feel pity for this person, you should feel sympathy when what we need to be doing is building empathy. Or this is urgent. This is real. This is bad. We don’t wanna scare anyone because our mailing list has donors and guests and we don’t wanna freak ’em out.
And it’s a hard line to walk. I think one of the ways that we really succeed in meeting that challenge is by coaching our people, our staff, particularly our communications team, but also our volunteers and our core supporters in the reasons behind our choices on that matter. And I think once they hear it, they get it, this does make sense. It’s harder, but it does make sense. And it does work. And we find that by holding that brand standard of only ever talking about positive and uplifting narratives and ways in which your support has already helped, can we have some more? It does resonate with people and it brings that sense of hope and joy and grace that is a core value of ours.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I was about to ask you and maybe those are all the words that you would use, but I was about to ask you how you think if I had a donor of yours on this call right now, and I asked them, what are three words or five words to describe how you feel about your relationship to your organization? What words do you think they would use?
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: I think that would depend on the donor.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. Your most aligned donor, your goal donor.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Yeah. I would really, in my dream world, some of the words that a donor would use to describe us would be those that are in our mission statement, which would be dignity, grace, and hospitality. We talk about trust a lot. When we first started this to this day, we get a lot of questions. If you are not collecting paperwork, if you’re not checking income, how do you know that these people really need it? How do you know that they’re not taking advantage of it?
And to me, oh, wow. First of all, if you’re gonna wait in line for four hours, I’m gonna go ahead and trust that you’re hungry. If you tell me that you’re hungry, I have no reason not to believe you. And I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as taking advantage of a food distribution. There is no one more deserving than the other if it satisfies a need in you to come get groceries, whether that you are hungry right now. You don’t want to be hungry next week. It makes you feel good to pick up for the little old lady down the block. Or even just having this extra $20 that you might save would keep your lights on, would buy your kids’ new shoes, would allow you to pay Netflix so that you have something fun to do because people deserve joy.
And I think that really has resonated with our donors. I think that does get more attraction than we think. We all get so very many email appeals constantly but when something comes from us into someone’s inbox, it’s going to make them feel good. They’re going to see direct and tangible results of the work that they did to support us getting here together. Whether that’s that they gave money or they volunteered, or they told a friend or they re-shared a social post, we’re able to show them the good work of what they did without bumming them out.
Mallory Erickson: I have a lot I wanna say on that topic but I’m gonna hold myself for one second and I’m gonna ask you one another question. And then maybe we dig in a little bit deeper around some of those pieces that you said that are so important. Because I’m curious, you don’t use the typical disaster porn, poverty porn, or crisis language. And yet you are showing up for community in the midst of crises.
And I’m curious, time box moments in fundraising are really powerful from a fundraising perspective. And I think we could get into a conversation around how they’re bad or good, but I actually think they’re just a tool and it’s the application of the tool that can be harmful or not harmful. And so there are ways to create time box moments that aren’t everybody panic, or you only have 15 minutes to quadruple X your gift. And otherwise, this thing’s gonna happen. Okay, yes, that’s not what we’re talking about, but how can we create not urgency that wrecks our nervous system, not urgency that takes away the dignity of another person? But urgency because the time is now and we wanna show up for our community now. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? Do you guys ever use time box moments that feel good? What does it look like?
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: We have, we absolutely have. When we do stuff like that, it tends to be about a success, about a win. Today with your help, with your support, we distributed twice the amount of groceries as usual. Today with your help and your support, we were able to accomplish X in partnership with our community. And those really do work.
But coming from 14 years in disaster response, that is the epitome of the feast or famine funding cycle. Disaster response organizations make money when something bad happens and thank climate change for the job security on that, but it can become a little toxic. And there is particularly in the response community, in the response organization, community, there’s always this rush to get your link up first, right? You have to be the first one with a donation link and you have to be the only one doing any work. And it’s, I’ll put some of the blame for that on some people in the philanthropic community that want to be important, that want to be special, just like we all do by funding the only organization making a difference.
But I think it leads to a serious breakdown in partnerships between organizations, in complementary missions. I’m of the position that there is enough work for everyone who wants to do the work. So one of the ways that we’ve started pushing back against some of this urgency and crisis cycle is by focusing on stewardship instead of urgency. So when we go out and prospect, a donor or someone clicks into the website and drops five bucks, we never view that as a one-time relationship. That is never just a single point of contact, no matter how a donor or a supporter chooses to interact with, we are going to follow up with that.
Now that’ll start, through the website with the automated email receipt, that Nation Builders who graciously provides because, wow, I do not wanna do that. Often that will be followed by a handwritten thank you note. And that’s for almost every donor they will be able to opt into our lists. They will get a supporter email. We will ping them when something big is happening, or we need to brag, or we need to ask for help again. And we have found that strategy is extremely successful. Those building relationships work better than trying to scare people into giving us money right now because if we scare them and we tell them, this is urgent, you have to do it right now. And if you do it, everything will be okay. We can’t go back to that.
Mallory Erickson: What you’re saying is so important. And it’s interesting because at the beginning of this conversation, you said some things like I heard you use some words around your fundraising like we have some unique challenges and we can’t maybe have the same emotional connection. And I think the thing I really wanna make sure that everybody listening to this understands is you can give a donor a positive, hormone release in their brain, without doing all that slimy stuff. And in fact it’s much, much better.
The reality is like the quick win, we complain so often in this sector about donor retention. And yet we are designing for exactly the results we’re seeing, that type of false urgency, dropped promises, lack of relationship, building, lack of community. Yeah, it gets you a favor, guilt, shame, gift. That one time, it soothes someone’s anxiety that you’ve created for them but they don’t wanna deal with you after that. It’s like they just wanna get outta that anxious moment.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Good people wanna feel good. And that goes to both ends of the spectrum that we serve, whether it’s the people who want a little help with groceries that week and want to feel good about how they asked for it and how they received that help. All the way up to the donor who wants to support the mission. I think you’re never gonna get as much buy-in from the philanthropic or donor community if you’re trying to make them feel bad, people don’t give you money when they feel bad, they want to feel good. They want to feel like they’re helping.
And there’s ways that we can encourage that and lift that up. Our organization occupies weird liminal space between, a traditional nonprofit and a more grassroots type of approach. And we get lumped in with either, depending on who’s doing the talking and what we’re doing at the moment. But it forces us to really pay attention about bringing someone into our community, bringing someone into our work, as opposed to just viewing them as a checkbook.
Mallory Erickson: Can you explain to me a little bit, when you say that sort of intersection of a grassroots organizing versus traditional nonprofit, what are the elements of grassroots organizing that you all do that you feel like are really unique?
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Yeah. Our no-barrier model, like just straight up our entire model, right from the beginning with the trust, with the respect, with the no questions, with the trying to uplift people in their times of their own personal crises. That definitely comes from a community organizing place.
I think it’s also in how we treat each other and how we share stories. One of my favorite things when I need a moment of joy, when I’m up in it and I need to come out for a second. One of my favorite things in the world is a lot of our core volunteers, best volunteers. They show up every single time they work their butts off no matter what the weather is, they used to be in line.
And we’ve got a lot of volunteers like that. They used to wait in line for four hours. They used to pick up for themselves, maybe sometimes for family and friends, but now they are the providers. They are empowered, they are serving groceries to others and they’re still getting what they need. They’re still going home with groceries, but they’re able to have that sense of empowerment of personal accomplishment and of doing good.
I think that often, as nonprofit leaders and I’m certainly guilty of this as well, I think we all are. We have a very wide gap between the people who fund us and the people who we serve. And I truly believe that is a really artificial gap. And I think COVID ripped the bandaid off of that in a lot of ways. There were a lot of stories of people who had donated or volunteered at food banks and now were in line at food banks and they never thought they’d be here. And we were serving just not the people you’d expect. We were serving people who drive up in Mercedes, they were wearing suits. We still serve people who are clearly not okay with asking. And these people might have been, or may yet be our donors and the people in line might be our donors too. And it’s about approaching both end of that spectrum with an equal amount of respect.
Mallory Erickson: As you were talking, one of the things that I was thinking about was that question I had asked you before around how would you say a donor feels who works with you feels? And what I had intended to ask you after that, and then got engaged in your answer was how does a guest feel?
And I think what I’m hearing you say right now, is that a guest, a volunteer, a donor, the goal is actually that their kind of emotional experience, their like human experience with the organization is equal. That all of them are actually bringing their own stories and their own experiences, but that what they feel from the organization are those core values. Am I hearing that right?
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: I would like to think so. I think, and I said, there’s the artificial gap between peers and people served, and if we start thinking about that as a spectrum instead of two separate buckets, I think we do a lot better. Because every single person in that entire chain is supporting us. So that’s some of the philanthropic funders and the individual donors they’re supporting us, our volunteers are supporting us, and the people in line are supporting us too. They’re not auxiliary. They’re not an afterthought. They’re not just why we’re here. They’re actually helping us do this. They’re helping us do it better. They show up every time. They give us their trust. They give us their time. And yeah, they give us our gratitude too. And I don’t often like to focus on that, but it is real and it does feel good. And all of those parts have to come together for a work like this to be successful. And if any single one of those parts fell out, this type of thing wouldn’t work.
Mallory Erickson: Are you familiar with the community-centric fundraising principles?
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: I’m a little bit familiar. I wish I knew more. I probably should have looked it up before I walked in here.
Mallory Erickson: Oh my gosh, no idea. That this is particularly on my mind today but I think there’s this space we’re struggling to talk about in the nonprofit sector for organizations that are making radical shifts around not using old school donor-centric practices. But are then watching in real-time their donors have centered experiences in their own worlds. There’s a difference between an organization centering donors and a donor feeling at the center of their own experience to your organization.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Oh, I love that. That’s so good. Can I steal that?
Mallory Erickson: Yes. Steal it. I’ve never said it before, but this is what I’ve been really processing recently is, those are two different things to show up for a donor with empathy that allows them to center themselves in their own story in relation to your organization, that is important. And that is very different than them being centered in the work of your organization. And it sounds like you agree.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Yeah. Can I talk about Nation Builders specifically for a second?
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, sure.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: So here’s something that Nation Builder provides that definitely supports this type of communication style. But also actually was a driving force in us deciding on this style. So in Nation Builder when someone interacts with you, they’re listed as a supporter, so that’s gonna encompass everyone who clicks through the donate button will be tagged as a supporter. Everyone who clicks up for a volunteer shift is gonna be tagged as a supporter. Everyone who calls us asking for help, or leaves a comment for us, how do I get help, is tagged as a supporter.
And it’s this really visual, really absolute equalizer. Because yeah, we can easily sort for donors sort for volunteers sort for anyone who left a comment on contact us. Absolutely. But when we’re looking at these total numbers of people who interact with us in any way shape or form, they are all supporters and that makes a difference. It really does. I think on a psychological level, even for our team. It makes a difference to not immediately be able to tell who is giving us help and who is getting help from us.
Mallory Erickson: That’s really interesting. And this goes back to what you were saying a few minutes ago which sparked my comment around the donor-centric, community-centric piece, which is that there has been this growing resistance or sort of backlash in our sector around donors having positive experiences like I was saying before. And I’ve been really trying to process that because from a habit and behavior perspective, from a psychology perspective, we know that donors participate because of a chemical reaction that happens in their brain and that is positive.
And so I’ve been really struggling recently with a lot of that backlash, and feeling a little bit like we’re throwing out the baby with the bath water and thinking like, how do we allow for the very real psychological experience of the donor allow for that to be included as well. And not just say we don’t wanna do things that make the donor feel good because then all of a sudden they’re centered, because that’s gonna ultimately have a really, really big impact on our fundraising. What I hear you saying? That’s so amazing is that you have found ways to do that, to allow for donors to have a positive experience with your organization without centering them, specializing them, really doing a lot of those typical things, which I think a lot of folks listening to this might be the very first concrete example of how that’s done.
Because I think this is one of those things that is talked about a lot in theory, but people are like, okay, what does this look like in practice? Or we see one of two things we. Organizations that stick with their perhaps more harmful and exclusionary fundraising practices. Or what we’re seeing our organizations really, I’m not using this word lightly, but dolling down their communications because they don’t wanna say anything potentially activating because then it would be creating a donor experience that then might put them back in the center of the story.
And I don’t think those things are in conflict, but I think the way we’ve been talking about them in the sector has been in conflict. And the Eighth Community Centric Fundraising Principle is we promote the understanding that everyone donors, staff, funders, board members, and volunteers, personally benefit from engaging in the work of social justice. It’s not just charity and compassion. And to me that’s everyone benefits. Yes.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Yeah. I think that’s it, and it’s been interesting for us. We started on the premise that people deserve joy. And that sounds sometimes trite, sometimes maybe willfully ignorant to some people, how do you deserve joy? Like what, no. But it’s true and that philosophy especially works in New Orleans. We are all about joy. We are all about dancing. We are all about music. We are all about food. We’re all about community care. So being able to start from the premise that everyone who interacts with us should have a positive experience, it enabled us to move away.
I like your use of the word exclusionary because I think it’s a needless separation. It’s a barrier that we built, the wall that we built and, particularly in hunger and particularly during the time of COVID, which was like such an equalizer. There I think there was a lot of inclination towards this could be you, be grateful it isn’t, that’s shitty to do to people. And instead, if we approach donors and we can say you are already a part of this work, I know when I donate to things, I want that dopamine hit, and clicking donate is almost as good as clicking add to cart. And we want people to have that feeling. We want them to enjoy it. When I’m looking to donate to things, I’m a nonprofit nerd, so I’m looking at 990s some and impact reports. But it’s also about feeling that I can make a difference, that my contribution specifically, my contribution will be valued.
When we’re asking donors to give money, we are asking them to give their time. They had to work to make that money. They’re choosing to give it to us instead of spending it on something else for themselves. And we have to reinforce that behavior. And like I said, at the other end of the chain, we’re asking people to give us their time to come for groceries. So once we think about the value of donor time, as opposed to the size of the check, I think we get into some really interesting spaces.
We definitely have major donors to write big checks and gosh, do we love that. We’ve got a lot of people who give us $2 a month. And that’s really cool to me because what that tells me is they’re invested in this. They want to be a part of the community. They see the importance of this work and the way in which we’re going about it and they are giving us what they can.
Mallory Erickson: I just appreciate everything that you’re saying, and I’m just letting myself like feel it.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: Your face is like really validating right now.
Mallory Erickson: So look, I think this is really important. And I wanna echo that you came onto this call today saying that this methodology of fundraising is not without its challenges. And I think that’s also really important to double click on because I think that if we want to be doing this work with the level of intention that we’re talking about right now, it is going to require discomfort and uncertainty and restraint. Frankly the restraint to not give in to the polls around major donor requests sometimes, or the unsatisfied person over here taking more of your time. That is hard work.
And I don’t say that to scare people away from doing it, I say it to set expectations for doing it because for me, I think what breaks my heart sometimes is like the quick out, the intention setting around wanting to do this as an organization and then all of a sudden it gets complicated and we revert right back to all the old ways we’ve fundraised. So I think people preparing themselves for a road of discovery and iteration and learning and listening and mistakes is just a really critical part of the process.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: For us, I think it was really crucial to have full staff buy-in to this. We have just honestly, the best staff members in the world. Everyone that anyone listening has hired is not as good as my guys. They’re amazing. I love them so much. Can’t say it enough. But we all made this decision together to not go down that road. And we all said, this feels right, this feels good. This is what we all wanna be a part of. And that’s communications development, operations, logistics, and our board all came together and said, this is the path that we are committed to walking.
And it’s also really important that anyone who sets out to do this, you can’t half ass something like this because you’re gonna get the messaging confused. You’re gonna trip yourself up and it’s not going to look authentic. So we carry this philosophy through, even into our grant writing, which you know is not usually public, is hidden. We get to say the nitty gritty details of stuff, but we’re still doing the positive thing, the partnerships thing, the collaboration thing, the you can make a significant impact thing, but don’t you wanna feel good about what we did for each other?
And keeping that kind of consistent narrative has really helped reinforce that what we’re doing is working for us. When we talk about our work often we try and say, we try and say you, we try and say us. And we talk about not what we’re doing for the other. We talk about what we’re doing for each other, what we accomplish together as a community. Cause we’re not the only ones out here. We might be the biggest and most consistent no-barrier food bank in the New Orleans area. But we need other people to do this. We need other people to help us do the work that we’re doing now, but we also need them to carry the torch. And if we’re going to sit here and say every single family deserves access to good, fresh, healthy food on a regular basis, then it’s our job to support our partners in that as well. It’s our job to make providing that access easier for others. It is our entire community.
Mallory Erickson: I love that. So tell folks where if there’s a place that you would personally like to connect with people who are hearing you speak and wanna reach out, where should they find you, and then to learn more about the organization and donate, give, get involved just tell everyone all the things.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: If anyone wants to become a supporter of Culutre Aid NOLA, they can go to Cultureaidnola.org. And if you wanna shoot me a message, I am always happy to nerd out on word choice and the ethics and reasons behind what we do and why we do it that way. And you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mallory Erickson: Thank you so much for this conversation today.
Erica Chomsky-Adelson: This was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for inviting me.