From the beginning of the project, Elk Run Farm has always emphasized the importance of partnerships throughout every step of the journey including funding, volunteer management, and marketing/visibility. Founded by the South King County Food Coalition (SKCFC), partnerships have always been based on sharing best practices and community support. Some organizations try to take on large social or economic issues in their community entirely on their own which can often lead to early burnout or a slow and arduous beginning. A mantra often heard at SKCFC meetings is “Why reinvent the wheel?”. With so many players in the world of emergency food, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA always seeks out partners and allies before starting any new project.
One of the many benefits of these types of partnerships amongst stakeholders is the opportunity for increased visibility and networking that they inherently provide. By presenting to local Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA has formed relationships with major leaders in the community, parents with connections to local schools, business owners and professionals, and many more. This type of grassroots networking creates meaningful connections and gives a name and face to the organization that many traditional types of advertising cannot compete with.
It cannot be emphasized enough how much these types of personal connections can bring major opportunities to the project. For example, one of the food banks in SKCFC has a volunteer garden coordinator who frequently volunteers at Elk Run Farm. As a parent and local community leader, she was able to bring the VISTA to Girl Scout Troop Leaders monthly gatherings where the VISTA was able to meet and present to almost thirty other community members. It would have been impossible for the VISTA to know about this meeting, let alone be invited to speak, without the connection to this volunteer.
In this way, it is always helpful to be prepared to talk about the long term vision of the project and any upcoming needs. Every conversation with a member of the community is a chance to network and increase visibility towards the project. An informational presentation to the Interact club at a local high school quickly turned into a discussion about fundraising and volunteering opportunities due to the genuine excitement of the VISTA. Many people shy away from giving formal presentations or guest speaking at events, but energy and enthusiasm about taking on these challenges will get any coordinator far. Always offer to come to meetings or gatherings even if a presentation is not on the table because one can never know where these opportunities will lead if embraced fully.
Media exposure can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t always have to be as formal as a story on a local access network. Newsletters, email blasts, and posts on social media can be far reaching and create more personal connections with potential donors and volunteers. Featuring stories about ongoing projects and dedicated volunteers allows the VISTA to communicate the needs of the project and the community without making a direct pitch.