Mixing Business with Passion Submitted by, Barbara P. Prather, Executive Director-Northeast Iowa Food Bank October 2017

When I graduated from college with a Business degree, I didn’t have much experience, so I went to work at a church.  It was fine for a while, but I knew there was more out there for me and I always wanted to run my own business.  In  1992, I entered the nonprofit world in Washington, DC at the Capital Area Food Bank.  At the time, I was just looking for a change of pace and something different.   What I found was a passion for helping people and an opportunity to run a business.

It was the early 1990’s.  My impression was people, who were hired in the nonprofit world, were social worker s and they had passion.  What I have learned is that as nonprofits grow and develop, the people they need must have strong skills, passion and accountability.  And this includes skills from the business world.

Now everything isn’t about strict business policies, systems and the bottom line.  While all of that is important you need to balance that with the social side of helping people. Borrowing business practices helps us help people better.   Accountability is the most important item you can have in a nonprofit organization.  Accountability and compliance take up a lot of my time, but they add so much value to what we do.

Many people think the Food Bank and our programs just give food to people.  While this is the end result, what sometimes gets missed is the systems that must be managed and in place in order to make that happen.  

Annually, you need to have a financial audit, every few years our government programs go through their own separate audits, every two years Feeding America does a two day inspection and every two years the American Institute of Baking comes in to do a food safety audit.  And behind each of these are questions you have to be prepared to answer and documentation you must have available for inspection.  All of which has to be balanced with the crisis or the need the person, who requires our services, has when they walk in our door.

Did I just know this when I started down this path? No, it has all been learned. But my business degree and graduate nonprofit work, helped give me a background for learning and understanding.  And over the years, the people we have hired one, have passion, but they have certain skills we are looking for to help us accomplish our mission.  Our Marketing Person has a degree in Entrepreneurship and Marketing; the Accounting and HR Manager has her CPA and our Inventory Person has a degree in Supply Chain and Operations Management.

I have learned over the years that if you are going to be successful you have to have the people with the right skills to do the job, but they also need passion.  The Food Bank is a distribution system and runs like a business-you need the systems in place and the people with the skills behind that to make sure it runs efficiently.  So the place to look for people isn’t just the Social Work or Family Services Departments at Colleges and Universities.  It is more than likely all departments at Colleges and Universities.  As a director, I need people with strong passion and strong skills.  And with that you never know where you will end up 25 years later.

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