The general perception is that nonprofits need more help. They need money, volunteers and there is an infinite amount of work to do.

But in some cases, there is a different bottleneck.

I came to this realization during my first time volunteering at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

This particular event was organized by a Meetup group I joined, and I didn’t know anyone that was going. When I got there the door was locked. Although, after reading the sign saying “phone this number to be let in” I was a little less confused.

This building is primarily their office, storage and sorting warehouse, so it is quite hidden and isn’t designed for public access. The food is actually sent elsewhere for distribution – otherwise they would have line ups of people out their door 24/7. Instead they use other shelters and kitchens to distribute the food.

Greater Vancouver Food Bank Office

Another group member arrived about the same time as I did, we simply called the number and were let in. Turns out there were about 7 of us, and we got along quickly. After a quick orientation, we were led into the warehouse.

The sun was beating down outside, a truly scorching day. The tin-roof warehouse was like a sauna that created a wall of hot air to walk through when entering from the air-conditioned office. If it were any hotter we could’ve opened up a can of alphagetti and had lunch! We got used to it pretty quick, and thankfully a food bank has no shortage of drinks in the fridge to stay hydrated during your shift.

Everything was so well organized. There were corners for different types of sorting, boxes with labels, signs and instructions everywhere, pallets of organized food in 3 levels of warehouse shelving. They are definitely prepared for volunteers and knew how to manage the process.

They have made the volunteer process very simple, and an organization as popular as this actually has no problem signing up volunteers – too many even. There’s apparently even a waitlist to get in as a volunteer. I managed to find a group that had a regular schedule and a few empty slots in a summer shift. A neat program they have is to sign up your company for a volunteer shift with about 10 or 20 people to go in monthly.

In fact, they have so much help, we ran out of work! (at least on that particular night of sorting and packing).

I’m not telling you this to boast how great and popular they are. Sure, they’re a fantastically run organization with a lot of exposure, and simple jobs for volunteers to help with, but the meat of this experience was that we ran out of food to sort! They have an efficient volunteer program with a steady flow of help.

With a system as good as this, they’re prepared for the rush of food donations around christmas and new years as people are running their own food drives at schools and work, but the volume drops drastically in the summer.

The unfortunate part? That single mom struggling to get food on the table for her son doesn’t get less hungry in the summer. So they’re left with more volunteers than they have work to do.

I’m not saying that the Greater Vancouver Food Bank isn’t trying to solve this problem, they absolutely are – and it’s not an easy one to solve. “Just get more donations in the summer” is much easier said than done.

But this is the point I want you to think about, what’s your bottleneck?

For this particular food bank it wasn’t volunteers and distribution. It was clearly food donations.

If you can identify your bottleneck you can focus your staff, your messages, your marketing, emails, newsletters, social media, around supporting and alleviating that bottleneck.

This is the level of thinking that needs to happen regularly so you’re not spinning your wheels trying to improve everything all at once. Instead, you should focus on 1 or 2 problems. Once they are improved, you will immediately see the new one that becomes more obvious.

This is the nature of a bottleneck. The flow will only be as fast as the smallest point can allow. If you widen it, there is a new smallest point.

You might ask, how is this important for nonprofit content marketing? With the right focus, you can put your content to work for you in that area as well. Nothing drives a nonprofit’s content marketing strategy like focus on a problem that will make a difference instead of hoping it will help with everything all at once.


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