044: Using Marketplaces to Move Hunger

mfh-black-logo-SQGreat conversation with Adam Lowy, the founder of Move For Hunger, an organization that organizes movers to donate the food that people normally waste when they move. Learn how they use offline and online activities to increase the amount of food donated to those in need.

Fact: 50 million Americans struggle to find their next meal. Truth: hunger is a HUGE issue. @MoveForHunger Click To Tweet


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Episode 44

George: This is using the whole whale. The podcast that brings you stories of data and technology in the nonprofit world. My name is George Weiner your host and your chief whaler of wholewhale.com. Thanks for joining us.

George: Happy New Year folks. Thrilled to be back thanks for joining us as always. I’m excited to talk with our guest today especially coming out of a time of the year of abundance and possibly that sort of one time push of volunteerism especially around soup kitchens and donating food. The solution that Adam Lowey the founder of Move for Hunger came up with is an all year solution and it’s actually designed to address the hunger that happens in our backyard. He’s got some tremendous stats and figures but more importantly an approach to actually recycling and reclaiming the food that we normally remove and throw away, when we move our apartments or houses. I move my apartment a lot but you get what I’m saying. I think it’s interesting to hear how he thinks about this as a market based solution, how he thinks about it from the data perspective and how they use and leverage their online and offline presence to really address this issue. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

George: I’m here with Adam Lowey the founder of Move for Hunger. How’s it going Adam?

Adam: I’m doing great George thanks for having me.

George: So to jump right into it, like where are you moving this hunger? I mean I hope that wherever you move it they they actually want it.


Adam: That’s a great question, we’re located in New Jersey but our reach is actually all across North America. We’re helping to feed the insecure population of the United States and Canada right now.

George: Yeah, you have a unique approach to that that actually touches on the move. How did you come across this idea and can you explain what it looks like on the ground?

Adam: Yes. My family’s actually owned a moving company here in New Jersey for about 90 years and we got sick and tired of seeing people throw away perfectly good, unopened, non-perishable food when they were moving. I mean think about it, you’re getting ready to leave and you’re packing up your belongings and you’re throwing away some stuff. So what we started with, was just asking people if they wanted to donate their food on their move, and when we saw how excited people got and actually collected over 300 pounds of food in a month. We figured this is something everyone should be doing and we’ve kind of grown from that idea.

George: Wow, so literally I’m about to move and I have some canned food or you know non-perishables and now instead of just throwing it away because I don’t want to bring my creamed corn with me, you guys provide sort of a network of movers that help people do this?

Adam: Yes, so currently we have over 630 moving companies across all 50 states and Canada that know to really provide our education and awareness materials and let you know if you’d like to donate your unopened, non-perishables they pick it up as part of the move itself, and then they’ll deliver it to the local food banks, so it stays within your community so this just becomes part of the process every day. We are kind of mobilizing an industry for good.

George: I’m curious off the top of your head do you have you know numbers on the amount of food wasted in America or some of the you know staggering statistics. I think that motivated you guys to create Move for Hunger?

Adam: Yes so unfortunately it’s about 40% of all food in the United States ends up in landfills which is crazy. Additionally 50 million Americans one in six Americans struggle with hunger every day, so to us it was really shocking while so many people are going hungry there’s all this food being you know ending up in the trash cans. So, we found this correlation. We have an industry that’s literally in people’s homes every day we figured maybe we can help change some of those statistics around a bit.

George: Yeah, I love that and just for some back story how old were you when you founded Move for Hunger?

Adam: I founded Move for Hunger at 24 years old, so was we just turned six years this year, and have fed over 5 million people to date, but it’s been a it’s been a heck of a journey from the very beginning. It’s it’s been interesting to learn just all the tools that have been at our disposal all along. To figure out how we can be really effective with a small team.

George: And that’s really incredible and one of the reasons we have you on is actually to talk a bit more about some of the digital tools you’ve been using to make this kind of an impact. You’ve got one office, correct? You don’t have an office in all 50 states?

Adam: We have one office we do have one remote employee out on the west coast but there is only seven employees here. Yup.

George: So talk to me about how the relationship of how the website moveforhunger.org helps drive your mission forward.

Adam: Yeah, so, you know, one of our goals is to A : make people aware about local hunger issues and food waste issues so we have a ton of content that just exists and we’re creating on our website to really showcase, what the needs are facing the U.S. in the communities and we touch upon, additionally our website provides a really great resource for people who are moving. To put in their zip code and find a mover. So they can come right online and really better connect with the moving companies that are participating. So, now they’ll have the opportunity to donate that food item, and just like any other nonprofit organization we have volunteering opportunities. We hold hundreds of food drives each year. You can donate online. But since we are only present here in New Jersey and our network is very national our website is almost a face in the way people are able interact with the organization.

George: Yeah, so you’re able to not only help people to find movers, but also movers can find you there and register and sign up. What does that process look like?

Adam: Yeah, so everything is connected to our crm which we use Sales Force. Sales Force foundation gives out 10 free licenses so free is better than anything else, and it’s been a really simple and efficient way to be quite honest to be able to capture leads online, capture that data. It goes right into our system and we are able to kind of go and better connect whether it be the moving companies or realtors or corporate housing providers anyone that wants to become part of our organization collect food day to day as part of the relocation process, we kind of have a program in place for them.

George: Awesome, and obviously your goal is to gather more movers through this online forum and getting organizations to sign up as well, right?

Adam: Correct. Correct.

George: Now do you have any idea, I’m just curious, as to where you are in the market size. What percentage of movers that you guys actually have?

Adam: So, of the moving companies that are part of Van Lines I’d say that we probably have maybe a quarter of the moving companies, or close to it. Currently involved with us are over 630 movers. That number actually might be a little bit high maybe it’s closer to 20%, but there’s still a lot of room to grow. Which is great, we’ve been forming really strategic relationships. Most of the industry is key Van Lines, Atlas Van Lines, or Allied Van Lines or Wheaton Van Lines, as well as the association of The American Moving & Storage Association, and the North American Association of Movers. So, they’re actually going out and they’re recruiting and applicating to their members to join our network.

George: And this is amazing because you got a pretty, how big is your staff?

Adam: There are only 7 full-time staff and a ton of interest.

George: Oh boy so you have 7…7 staff able to manage over 600 movers and like the requisite like sort of back and forth and membership that goes along with that?

Adam: 600 movers, about 3,000 realtors, corporate housing providers and even last year alone we organized over 400 food drive events. So, we are able to do that with a very small team and probably in part due to the website and Sales force for it to run as effectively as possible.

George: I think this is just incredible and a good learning for anyone who is doing a national program thinking that they have to you know expand regionally or potentially hire as just as many staff as you have potentially like members on. That’s awesome, but I’m sure you started off maybe a little bit slower. I’m curious, you know what would you have done differently if you could jump in a hot tub time machine and go back and talk to 24 year old Adam Lowey?


Adam: I probably would have got a stronger CRM a lot earlier maybe moved on to a better website platform. So, in the very beginning when we were just starting it was really just me. I had built our CRM in Microsoft Access which is kind of the thing that people did at the time, but I didn’t know any better about the cloud that was just kind of, sadly it’s weird to say that was kind of new and up and coming 6 years ago, it’s crazy how far we’ve gone. and for the website we were using just kind of old fashioned fuse gate and I was communicating with my old college roommate who was still in Arizona. I was designing the imagery myself on Photoshop, sending him the jpegs with a piece of paper and telling him this is where I want each of these images to go to make up our website. Little did I know that there were other platforms available out there that were really easy to use but maybe not necessarily as popular quite yet. I think I think had those tools been more available or had I known about those things I would have jumped right into those and been able to spend less time drawing pictures of how I wanted my website to look on pieces of paper, and more time actually recruiting more members on board.


George: Well nothing wrong with getting the job done, and you’re on; you’re on WordPress now you said right?

Adam: Exactly, we love WordPress.

George: Cool, so let’s move to what you’re measuring now with on the ground impact and website engagements that tell you that you’re on track for the outcomes you’re after?

Adam: Yeah, so we, we measure everything. I think that’s one of the benefits of sales source but some of the things that we really pay close attention to are, A : membership so, our new members signing up, you know movers and realtors and however long is it taking that process for us to get them through the system, you know if we see someone sitting in there for 4 months, or we haven’t reached out to them in several months, kind of part of that communication process. We’re not doing our jobs very effectively and ultimately those companies aren’t going to be collecting food. Pounds is a really important metric, Are we collecting food? It’s one thing to you know putting out fancy websites and collateral and education material but if they’re you know leading to no results then again we know we’re not doing our job. So, any time we’re making a change we are just updating our currently collateral material for all our moving companies. We want to make sure that A. it’s easy to read, and B. the call to action is much clearer so next year when we look at the numbers, we can say “did this one change actually drive more food donations.” And, finally it’s monetary donations as well what is our average gift. Are people donating more than once a year? Are there certain events that are doing better with donations than others, so to be able to figure out how to drive more revenue through the organization is an important component as well?

George: Yeah, and I think you mentioned this you’re also looking at the number of people that are actually searching to find mover. You’ve built this really dynamic market place now that helps promote the movers that are involved so there’s something in it for them too.

Adam: Correct! Correct! You know we’ve actually gave out let me think. I don’t have that statistic on me right now so forget that thought.


George: Yeah, but just to close the loop there I’m a moving company and I want to be listed on Move for Hunger and your sending you know potential hundreds of people when they’re looking through that find a mover tack right?

Adam: Correct. So, you know we’re creating more value for the moving companies that’s in our network because normally they would have to go out and pay for these leads or they’re figuring out ways to market by us being out, and getting people socially engaged in this issue and letting them, you know, I can find a mover who can move professionally but also be able to donate my food with them, and we’re going to provide this lead free of charge to the moving company. The movers are very happy and the customers very happy because they are able to feel good about themselves and everybody wins. You know hopefully we’re gonna collect some food from that person.

George: Yeah, and I think that’s a great narrative to have as well. How are you getting most of your movers to sign up right now?

Adam: Believe it or not the majority of our movers sign up through word of mouth. We travel quite a bit, and as great as technology is, I still believe in talking on the phone and meeting people face to face. So, by creating strategic partnerships with many of the industry’s leading associations and corporations they become almost our recruiting line. So, as an example; Atlas Van Lines when they joined us two and a half years ago we had already had 15 of their agents participating with us, and maybe they collected 15,000 pounds of food that year. When Atlas joined us as an official partner, we’ve grown to now work with over 100 of their agents and deliver almost a ½ million pounds of food with them. So, by them actually pushing recruiting on our behalf it makes it easy for us to? Our impact.

George: Totally, and you’re a little old school with this like you know you seem to travel like 15 times per month it seems like. [Laughing] How do you actually track you’re on the ground activities and regional events to you know, online behavior?

Adam: Yeah, so you know, part of it is can we capture data on the spot, so when we’re at all these different industry conferences we’re trying to get these moving companies to sign up. We’ve got our laptops, we’ve got our iPads where they can just you know just join and sign up right then and there and they become part of these campaigns and we can say was this conference a good one for us to go to? Should we go back to that based on what kind of participation we’re seeing on the ground? Additionally if one of us is talking or we’re giving out a reward we’re looking at social media. Are we seeing the retweets and the shares conversations that we want to see while we’re travelling? So, Yes a lot of it does involve us you know shaking people’s hands, but additionally how does that shaking that hand convert to them doing something on the website whether that be them joining us or making a donation or saying they want to get involved in some other way?

George: Yeah, so I imagine google analytics plays a little role as well to tell if anyone’s actually converting when you give a speech somewhere or you’re active on social media?

Adam: Absolutely, I mean I just spoke at the Washington Hunger Coalition conference a couple of months ago to about 300 food banks across the state. It was interesting to see just how many, you know, hits our website got from Washington State immediately following that, so, you know my job wasn’t to get any of them to make a donation or sign up there, but it was to educate them how to Move For Hunger can be a resource for them and to see them go to our pages is really cool to see.

George: Nice, so switching to the larger sector what is your advice to other nonprofits tackling digital impact?

Adam: There are a lot of really great tools out there and it seems trite to say to help you work smarter not harder, you know, and, and, measure as much as you can because when you have data you can tell stories with it. I was looking at things even just last week that we’ve been measuring for a while but maybe not looking at the data in the appropriate way. Things like email open rates and click rates by analyzing those a little bit more clearly and figuring out which is the most successful we can you know pinpoint the subject lines, and what times. That’s data that you have access to and generally there isn’t a positive. Use that and it’s gonna make your organization more effective.

George: Alright. So let’s move into our rapid fire round if you are ready?

Adam: Yeah, bring it on.

George: Okay, what is one tech tool or a website that your organization has used or started using in the last year that’s made a significant difference?

Adam: I know it’s been around awhile but, Foodsweep We signed up for it 3 years ago and we never actually really used it now that we have someone in charge of social media, we’re cranking out social media clips like no other and it’s making life so much easier.

George: What tech dragons do you need to slay in the coming year? Things that you see as oh boy I’ve gotta fix that?

Adam: As great as sales force is there’s always pieces that I think we can be doing better. Managing the flow of someone that is not yet working with us, to becoming almost a Move For Hunger superstar if you will and someone that wants the whole food drives and get involved etcetera. So, there’s a lot still that we have yet to do.

George: Of course, talk about a mistake you have made in creating Move for Hunger or anywhere along your journey.

Adam: From a technology standpoint. Correct?

George: You know we’ll go with technology if that helps us frame it sure.


Adam: Yeah, so one of the things that we cared a lot about for our first 3 years in Move for Hunger maybe 4 years was how many likes are we getting on Facebook and twitter? That number was something that was really important to us and every month we measured it and you know we hit 5,500 followers or 10,000 followers and it was a major milestone, but looking back that number really doesn’t matter. What really matters is of the people that are engaged with you or following you in similar regard, what are they doing? Are they converting? Are they going to your website and converting in some way to do whatever action item that you’re asking about. So, I probably wouldn’t have cared so much about that number if I could go back a little bit and worry more about what am I trying to get these followers to actually do.

George: Nice. What would it take for your organization to successfully go out of business?

Adam: That’s our goal first and foremost and I think we can do that as much as it terrifies my staff. While we’re not fixing all of hunger or food waste, we’re fixing food waste location. If we can get enough moving and relocation companies to participate and then create enough demand from the general public to make you know donating your food when you move a standard operating procedure, then we have changed the process, and when you change processes it becomes something that sustains over time and eventually we won’t need food banks. That truly is my goal we want, we want this to be the thing that happens when people move. I’d say we are well on our way. We are just getting started but we’ve certainly come a long way in 6 years.

George: What is something you think your organization should stop doing?

Adam: We have a mantra that we write on our white board that says just say no. [Laughing]?

George: Can we tease that out a little?

Adam: So, you know a lot of people reach out to us and search how to hold a food drive, is one of the first things that pops up. People are always looking for ways to engage with us like and sometimes in ways that really aren’t what we’re supposed to be doing each and every day as core to our mission. So, recognizing you know what that might sound or seem like a really fun idea, but that gonna involve a lot of time and effort and really isn’t gonna end up bringing the results that we need to help more people, or to drive our mission forward. So, learning to say no I think is an art and a very difficult one but the more we’re able to say no the more effective our yesses can become

George: If you had a Harry Potter style wand and you could wave it across the industry to change one thing about the non-profit sector what would it be?

Adam: Collaboration I came into this hunger relief space if you will knowing nothing about non-profits or food banking or hungry. I certainly learned quite a bit but lastly in my space and in many other sectors is that there really is a lack of collaboration. Non-profits are constantly competing for PR and brand and dollars more importantly and if everyone would just work on what their core capacities are about how we could help each other we actually would be able to solve more problems and again our goal isn’t to be here forever, our goal is to solve a very small piece of this very large problem that is hunger and food waste, and if we can solve this piece, then we can move on to the next piece. It’s a battle

George: Adam it is very admirable how focused you guys are on niche and this particular intervention and you have your eyes set on a solution. I think your gonna find it. To wrap up here, how do people find you and how can people help you?

Adam: If you’d like to get involved or make a donation to the cause you can visit moveforhunger.org and m o v e f o r h u n g e r.org or you can come and interact with us on social media too we are always looking for new friends.

George: Again thanks for spending the time with us Adam and take care.

Adam: Thanks so much

George: Adam is doing a lot of things right here. I love the way he’s using a market based solution and tying together the movers, not just going after the people moving but the people actually implementing this critical change, and you have somebody moving their home and obviously wasting food. So, he’s gone after it from that market solution. He’s tied together a number of members of the market share and he’s balancing both offline and online work to make sure that the materials and the strategies and the outreach they’re doing actually makes a difference. Are you raising more food, are you saving more food or are you not and that’s a great bottom line metric to hold yourself accountable to. I think my favorite part of this interview was when (I have to look here and pull it up) when he talks about it’s one thing to put out fancy collateral and websites, but it doesn’t lead to results. It’s time to make a change, and how many of us and there’s between you me and these headphones. How many of us out there see the non-profits celebrate their success only after they’ve put together a great brochure or a great flyer and call it a day for awareness. We handed out 30,000 flyers last week we did it. Did you? Are you going as far as Adam is to say well what if we change the word into action. What if we change the way we position this to people and would we get a higher return. Obviously there’s always more things that we can be working on but I think that’s a level we’ve got to strive for because we should be pushing for once we’re measuring the right things holding ourselves accountable to it. By all means create the awesome collateral put it out there, celebrate it but at least have that internal conversation and say, did we move the needle on awareness, did we move the needle on hunger, and I really think that Adam is. You’re doing a fantastic job we’ve got some of those salesforce foundation, and the free sales force seats that you can get on the show notes for the show Move for Hunger and this is episode 44. Thanks for joining us, as always we would love to hear from you so keep in touch.

George: This has been using the whole whale for more resources on today’s show please visit wholewhale.com/podcast and consider following us on twitter at whole whale and thanks for joining us. Today’s music from the very well known (at least in our circles) Greg Thomas and the song together also exciting update Greg Thomas is now the campaign strategy whaler at whole whale, so if you’re working with us hopefully you’ll be working with him