For now 11 years I have had the pleasure of being counsel to Harvesters – The Community Food Network for the 26 counties surrounding Kansas City. I have been very vocal about their outstanding CEO, great Chief Resource Officer and the young, strong Development Director and her cadre of fundraisers. They have been #1 in my book for many years.Now Feeding America is lavishing praise on this organization. At their national conference in Las Vegas last month, Harvesters was named the 2011 Food Bank of the Year by Feed America, the nation’s food bank network. This national award annually recognizes the outstanding food bank in the country for exemplifying the highest standards in fulfilling its mission to feed the hungry. Harvesters was recognized with awards for top CEO, top fundraising, and top many other things. The strength and determination of their leadership made them the #1 Food Bank in America.Congratulations and well-deserved!Now my challenge to Harvesters, as well as the many others who are recognized for your achievements, is to not squander the opportunity to describe to your constituents why you are special. To humbly accept the heartfelt but trite comment I made above about you always being number one to me is an insufficient response. We have our donors, our political leaders, and our community’s attention. Now, let’s use this opportunity to tell them why we are special.Several years ago I had a hospital client that was named in the top 10 of its specialty in the country by a major international publication. They wasted this opportunity with a nice press conference thanking employees, board, community all good things, but not highlighting the impact they had in their field of medicine and illustrating what advantages their community has—not because of the award, because of what it took to achieve the award.Just a few months ago one of the major benefactors of this institution asked me why this award was not better acknowledged nationally and internationally, and I told him the story above.It is not self promotion or egotistical to illustrate your strengths. Our capitalistic system is based on distinguishing one business from another. The nonprofit world is no different.Many of you know I am from Kansas so grew up knowing Bob Dole. I prepared a recognition piece based on an experience with Bob just recently. When he ran for President, the Saturday Night Live skits about him jabbed the way he talked about himself in the third person. “Bob Dole thinks this,” he would say. Mocking our political leaders is great sport for SNL and I am the last to criticize it, since I laughed and repeated the highlights on Monday like everyone else. But as I think about it, I wonder if his habit isn’t based on deep-rooted, Midwestern modesty that says it is impolite to talk about oneself. My mother insisted that I was to always to write “we” rather than “I” so as not to draw attention to oneself. As most of you know, I have failed miserably at that second part.My point is that perhaps the reason we don’t effectively use awards like this is that we don’t want to appear to be self-serving.Okay, here is why Harvesters won this award.
- Developing the largest BackSnack program in the world, bringing weekend food to over 13,000 elementary children during the school year annually.
- Increasing the distribution of food to its member agencies by nearly 40% during this recession.
- Creating a work environment that has an 82% retention rate for employees.
- Adding a new distribution site in Topeka to meet the needs of a growing hunger problem in Kansas.
- Increasing fundraising by 115% during the Great Recession when many other nonprofits are wringing their hands about declining giving.
Now I could go on and on, you can bet Harvesters will spread the recognition for this achievement to everyone. And while their doing so, but will talk about the one out of eight persons in Kansas City who benefits from the community’s support of its top ranked food bank.When you receive an award, remember that while you deserve it, the real opportunity to bask in the limelight lies not with you, but your mission.You are the best. For those you serve and for the future of your organization, say it loud and proud.