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Guest Column: Feeding America CEO Calls on Hollywood to Make Donations Without Strings Attached


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When I started at Feeding America in October 2018, I was honored and humbled to join an organization with which I had been familiar since I was a little girl. I came to the table with my own experiences, including my years at Walmart, and I recognized that the people we serve needed to be at that same table. We have a bold aspiration that every community and each person within it has access to the food and resources that they say they desire and need to thrive. We want to see the total food insecurity rate reduced to 5 percent by 2030 and reduce food insecurity disparities based on race and place by half, and we can’t possibly do this without our neighbors with lived experience at the table, elevating their voices and letting us know how we can help.

Missing from so many conversations about solutions to what ails communities are the voices of people facing those problems. Often, well-intentioned donors want to help but also want to define how without any input from the very people they want to help. For example, a donor may want to support a program that serves a specific market or area, though perhaps that may not be the area most in need. Or a donor may want to support a new program, maybe they saw a news story about it in another community, but the nonprofit does not currently operate such a program because it is not the right solution for the community they serve.

We aim to start from a position of trust and partnership and ask questions first: What do you need? How do we work together to get the things that you need? What kind of role should we play in making that happen? And when is it time for us to sit back, listen and learn?

When MacKenzie Scott gifted Feeding America $20 million, those dollars came without restrictions. Since 2020, she has given unrestricted gifts totaling $12 billion to more than 1,200 charities, including 43 members of the Feeding America network of food banks and countless of our partners in hunger relief and social/human services.

Why? Because she trusts the organizations doing the work to know how to solve the problems they’re addressing. This shouldn’t be groundbreaking, but it is.

There has been a paternalistic system of giving where funders restrict dollars to support specific programs or specific markets, without asking what the organization really needs. They imply: You get to have this money, if you jump through this hoop, then do a flip, and then do a cartwheel — and then have exact precision and land right on this dime.

Nonprofits have been doing these fundraising acrobatics for years to meet funders’ well-intended priorities. Often, as we learned through Feeding America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits cannot predict how best to serve their communities and require flexibility in funding to maintain the nimble, innovative, efficient response and remedy that best fits an unpredictable world.

As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” In philanthropy, this is an opportunity to listen to communities and learn. To be sure, communities across America are hurting, and they need our support, but it is how we give that support that needs to change. Let’s do better.

I understand the hesitation, but let me be clear: Work like this is not designed to remove chairs from tables but to add them. This is about abundance, not scarcity.

To that end and in that spirit — and in the spirit with which MacKenzie Scott gave a $20 million gift — we have established the Food Security Equity Impact Fund to provide for communities addressing food insecurity disparities and equity. Feeding America won’t be in the command position at the table; we hope to earn a seat alongside a lot of new people. People have long understood what ails their own communities and what the real solutions would be for the issues that plague their communities. We will be there listening, learning and giving everything that we can so that a ZIP code will not define anyone’s food security status.

I invite you to do the same when you decide to make significant donations in the community you care about. Share power. Ask the questions. Listen. Learn. And co-create solutions in community. Only then, with community at the table, can we work to truly address the issues that matter.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is the CEO of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, helping to provide over 6 billion meals annually to tens of millions of people through its nationwide network of 200 food banks, 21 statewide associations and 60,000 partner food pantries and meal programs. Previous to Feeding America, she was an executive at Walmart, where she served as executive vice president and global treasurer.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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