September 16, 2013 Back to All Blogs

In the fight against hunger and food waste, time is the enemy. Data and technology are allies.

In the fight against hunger and food waste, time is the enemy.  No one knows this better than the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB).clock_time-592x299

Managing the distribution of nutritious meals among 700 community partners responsible for feeding nearly 500,000 Washington, DC-metro residents is an immense logistical feat, especially when you consider that half the food is fresh produce.

To stay on top of community needs with real-time data and communication channels, CAFB engaged Pantheon – an Arlington, Va., technology solutions company with a knack for creativity and problem solving. Throughout the 10-month project, Pantheon will work with CAFB to develop and deploy a comprehensive data warehouse and a “Customer Relationship Management” system. These new technology tools will merge data from multiple sources to serve up important points of measure around hunger needs, partner capacity, demographics of those served, budgets, meal nutritional values, staff certifications and more. The technology not only captures the data, but also helps analyze what the data show and facilitates timely response and communication.

With a motto of “Together We Can Solve Hunger” and a more than double increase in demand, particularly among working people, the imperative to act quickly, efficiently and effectively is acutely felt by every CAFB staff member.

“CAFB is an extraordinary organization doing immensely important work,” said Pantheon’s Ken McInerney. “Engaging the community and partners to solve hunger-related problems is time-critical and data-intensive. CAFB leaders must be able to access and act on the very best information quickly and easily to effectively address hunger and nutrition throughout the capital region.” The project expands on Pantheon’s prior work for CAFB, which involved building an intranet to share internal information and improve certain business processes.

“We needed a technology partner to design and build a systems that our staff could and would want to use,” said Jody Tick, senior director of information technology and food resources at CAFB. “Pantheon is taking the time to understand our staff’s day-to-day jobs and identify ways to customize a database and CRM to meet the unique needs and mission of CAFB. Matching supply to demand, eliminating waste and communicating results are constant challenges. More and better data will help us stay nimble and responsive.”

The design of the CRM interface and its integration with an Enterprise Data Warehouse that merges data from multiple sources, including CAFB’s current intranet and website, will be critically important to its success. To ensure it fits seamlessly into the daily routines of a growing staff, Pantheon and its design partner, LookThink, will study how staff do their jobs, interact with partners and the kinds of functionalities required to be efficient and effective.

Pantheon and LookThink are experts in “user experience” – an important specialty in creating online technology tools, which recognizes that just launching a database or creating apps with the right information is not enough. Ultimately users like CAFB staff must be able to act on the information to make data-driven decisions.

The CRM and data warehouse are set for launch in summer 2014, with the primary goals of building partner capacity, identifying and addressing unmet needs, collecting data and measuring the impact of the CAFB network throughout the region. In the future, CAFB hopes to use the data to inform “hunger heat maps” that will identify neighborhoods where more meals are needed, and where help may exist to meet those needs. This kind of data can be eye-opening for donors; volunteers; education, health and social service professionals; elected leaders and many others.

New insights and information gleaned from the data warehouse and shared via the CRM could include a catalog of nutritionally rich recipes and new techniques for better food storage for things like a surprise donation of 20 cases of fresh tomatoes and several hundred pounds of frozen fish. Local grocery stores and restaurants that find themselves with extra turkeys during Thanksgiving will have their donation targeted to the areas of greatest need and receive a report on the impact of their donation.

The CRM and data warehouse will also facilitate reporting requirements for partners participating in federal or other government programs. The DC metro area is bracing for dramatic cuts expected in the federal food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP) in the fall. Better data about the number and location of SNAP recipients will help CAFB, its partners and community leaders prepare for increased demand.

Better data and communication channels will also be important in CAFB’s work to address the twin challenges of hunger and obesity. Poor nutrition and a dearth of fresh fruits and vegetables are the norm in many high-poverty neighborhoods. The CRM and data warehouse will help target initiatives to meet hunger needs, reduce obesity and increase healthy eating among school children, teach the principles of healthy cooking and make mobile pantries available in “food deserts.”

“This powerful, custom tool will be designed for and owned by CAFB to deploy in the fight against hunger,” said McInerney. “CAFB is a high-performance organization blazing trails in using data in the nonprofit food bank industry.”

To donate food, funds or time, visit CAFB’s website to learn more.

*Also check out:

Data doesn’t live in fields. Make the most of your CRM.
The “Fear Factor” in making technology decisions
Engage or die. The fate of nonprofits and associations
Five ways technology can encourage “All for one and one for all” action