October 25, 2014
   
Community Servings Relies on Businesses to Meet Its Mission

David Waters
September 24, 2009 — Good partnerships between nonprofits and businesses create a winning situation for both parties, and one of the best ways that nonprofits can help achieve that is by focusing squarely on it’s mission, avoiding mission creep, David Waters, CEO of Boston-based Community Servings, told business leaders yesterday.

Speaking to a gathering of the Smaller Business Association of New England (SBANE), Waters, winner of the SBANE Innovation Award for 2009, said, “We can help you do well, while you help us do good.”

Relying on a network of 30,000 donors—and more than 300 local businesses— Community Servings mobilizes 1,500 volunteers each month to provide appealing, nutritiously appropriate meals to about 720 disadvantaged, critically ill patients in Massachusetts.

Noting that Community Servings is “in the business of engaging the community in feeding the sick,” Waters said, “Figuring out the business puzzle is the fun part in making it work.”

Waters cited a number of "for-profit" business lessons that he has brought to the nonprofit sector that have helped the organization distinguish itself from others seeking corporate support. Among them, Community Servings:
  • Helps businesses determine how they can contribute to the community while improving their bottom lines.

  • Employs leading-edge marketing and public relations practices that are used in business to develop and promote a distinctive brand.

  • Operates efficiently and employs tight cost controls, e.g., spending no more than 10% of funds raised for special events on those events.

  • Taps a wide range of expertise among business partners, ranging from marketing expertise to snowplowing.

  • Aggressively leverages business connections to make more connections, solicit donations, and recruit volunteers.

  • Promotes a strong customer service culture, emphasizing rapid problem solving.

  • Fosters relationships between business partners and donors to help partners build their business.
To signal the success of his management approach, Waters said his managers have been with Community Servings for an average of eight years, while front line staffers average five years.

Among his most successful employees have been ex-convicts, who make up about 20% of his staff: “They are among our most dedicated employees since they appreciate that we gave them a second chance.”

Waters also debunked what he described as a number of myths about nonprofits, namely that they are inefficient or ineffective, saying,” Those on the forefront in the nonprofit sector are as innovative and aggressive as businesses.” He also said that nonprofits often resemble businesses in that they need to deliver services to demanding clients, though in his case he has two sets of clients – donors and those receiving meals.

Community Servings was founded in 1990 by a coalition of 70 organizations, activists and restaurateurs to feed people with HIV/AIDS at a time when there were no medical treatments to fight the virus and when food was the only medicine available. Today, it prepares and deliver 25s different medically-tailored diets to people coping with HIV/AIDS, cancer, cardiac disease, kidney failure, and 15 other diseases, along with their children and caregivers. In 2008, it moved to a new, state-of-the-art nutrition center in Boston’s Jamaica Plain section.

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