Thousands of American students experience food insecurity, but Monday through Friday, they can often rely on free school meals when there is little food at home. However, weekends are tough, as many will go without food waiting for school breakfast and lunch. Enter: Filling in the Blanks’ Weekend Meal Program, providing free weekend meals to underserved students in Connecticut and Westchester, NY.
Filling in the Blanks (FITB) is an ambitious grassroots nonprofit that supplies weekend meal kits filled with balanced, shelf-stable food to local students each week. This program is a community staple that ensures thousands of kids show up to school on Monday with full bellies, ready to learn. The rising cost of food and overall cost of living throughout the pandemic has been devastating, hitting families with children the hardest. As a result, FITB’s Weekend Meal Program saw record enrollment rates alongside rising food insecurity.
With so many to serve, the Weekend Meal Program had big fundraising goals to fill (and little budget to get there). Our plan was to:
Grow the email list with potential new donors. Bringing new supporters into the FITB community emerged as an important step for long-term relationships, added recognition, and fulfilling volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
Grow donations from first-time donors
Re-engage existing donors to give again
In 2020, everyone was eager to help, and FITB saw a historic landslide of donations. In 2021 it was a different story. The empathy burnout was real. Every issue felt urgent, and getting them to care about yet another problem was the biggest challenge we faced. Could we break their fundraising record again this time?
Our second challenge was capturing attention ahead of Giving Tuesday, the most crowded giving day of the year. Our audiences were most likely to make a donation around Giving Tuesday, but how could we show them that FITB is the cause they should give to?
Our final challenge was a minimal paid media budget. To reach new donors, we had to be smart about where we invested our dollars to get the most return.
The heart of our strategy was to interrupt doom scrolling with some good news. Rather than communicate the true, dire urgency of rising hunger rates and the hundreds of new students at new schools that FITB had to feed, we showed potential donors that local, direct action on hunger through FITB has a tangible positive impact: FITB is now serving 16 new schools, would they help us reach 16 more next year? Our creative assets reflected this hopeful feeling by utilizing white space, emphasizing the sunny orange in their brand colors, and making use of approachable, modern type.
To capture attention ahead of Giving Tuesday, we leveraged the one day per year where nearly everyone is thinking about food: Thanksgiving. To follow the positive impact focus of our campaign, we set a tangible goal to fill 10K Weekend Meal Bags and worked with local influencers to spread the word. FITB has excellent relationships with local mom-fluencers. These influencers have connections with parents in the local community who would understand the issue of childhood hunger and be eager to help. We reached out to each of them personally and provided them with campaign toolkits, helped them start their own fundraisers using Meta’s in-app donation buttons, and organized an influencer Thanksgiving meal bag packing event at FITB’s warehouse.
To maximize our paid media investments, we focused on the following channels to reach our audiences:
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: Twitter is where our audience is outspoken about local social issues, and Facebook/Instagram has affordable lead generation capabilities to grow FITB’s email list.
To reach existing donors, who tend to skew older and may not be on social:
We leveraged FITB’s email list and set positive, tangible goals. We kicked the campaign off with an ask to help raise money for a new meal delivery truck to serve more students in FITB’s program.
We designed a personalized letter delivered via snail mail.
By all accounts, we exceeded our goals in 2021. We raised 12% more funds and drove 66% more users to the site than the year prior, setting a new annual fundraising record for FITB.
Our results for the goals outlined above:
Re-engage existing donors to give again: 2.7x increase in the average donation value from existing donors. The Truck Drive alone raised almost 25% of all donations from existing donors in just one day!
Grow donations from first-time donors: 1.6x increase in average donation value from first-time donors.
Grow the email list with potential new donors: +300 new quality contacts, 34% average email open rate.
We also were successful in gaining attention on Thanksgiving ahead of Giving Tuesday: Thanks to the influencer activation, FITB earned the highest site traffic during the campaign flight on Thanksgiving, rather than the usual Giving Tuesday. Over 18 local mom-fluencers posted, reaching over 90,000 people, who donated enough to meet their 10K Weekend Meal Bag goal.
Positive social impact:
FITB raised enough to serve not just 16 more schools, but over 85 schools and counting in total. They were able to increase their capacity to serve 4,000 students per week, nearly double from when we began working with them the year before. That’s a huge win in our book.
As pandemic support systems like the federal Universal School Meal program are set to end in late 2022, we are proud to have raised local awareness and support for this vital community program.