Nonprofit Leader Spotlight: How K.C.-Based Harvesters Builds Meaningful Volunteer, Community Relationships

Jenn Cantrell, Nonprofit Leadership / Friday, October 19th, 2018

Can you remember the last time you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from? Josh does. As a 29-year-old struggling with mental illness, Josh has often faced long bouts of hunger and food insecurity. Fortunately, Josh lives within walking distance to his local food pantry and, like 46.5 million other Americans, receives charitable food assistance to get by.

One of the mobile pantries he visits is a partner agency of  Harvesters, a Kansas-City based food bank that serves a 26-county area of northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas. Named Feeding America’s 2011 Food Bank of the Year, Harvesters provides food and related household products to more than 620 not-for-profit agencies including emergency food pantries, community kitchens, shelters and others who provide food assistance to as many as 141, 500 different people each month.

Like many other food pantries and nonprofits, Harvesters receives a significant amount of its revenue during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years. Developing a strong end-of-year giving strategy in addition to developing year-round revenue channels is essential for a nonprofits’ success.

Harvesters’ Community Engagement Managers, Danielle Pinnell and Logan Heley, agreed to share their experience and insights with VolunteerMark in order to help others learn from their challenges and successes with volunteer engagement, end-of-year giving strategies and innovative ways to engage their communities.     

Maximizing Year-Round Engagement: Turn Holiday Volunteers into Long-term Volunteers

Harvesters sees a significant increase in food donations, volunteers and food drive hosting during the holidays (November-December). The community is incredibly generous during this time when giving back and helping your community is at the forefront of people’s minds.

It’s also a time of great need as the people Harvesters serves must choose between heating their homes, paying for medicine, buying gas, or eating healthy food. It’s important to remember, however, that the rest of the year is equally challenging. Harvesters works to educate the public that hunger is a year-round challenge. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, during the summer months Harvesters experiences a decrease in sortable, donated food and volunteers. Not only does volunteer need drop because of diminished donations, but they also have fewer volunteer requests.

Since school groups comprise a large part of their volunteer base, the volunteer and donation loss is more acute during summer break.   

Sadly, the summer months are the slowest times of year for donations but also the greatest time of need. Click To TweetKids are out of school and not receiving the meals they normally get during the school year. In the summer, people don’t think about hunger being an issue as much because it is often associated with cold weather. This past summer, Harvesters partnered with the Kansas City Royals and a local grocery store chain to highlight the summer hunger need.

One way Harvesters continues their relationships with holiday volunteers is to encourage and promote year-round volunteering and food drives. When setting up an event for groups during the holiday season, Harvesters stresses the importance of year-round involvement and encourages volunteers to participate and set up spring and summer drives as well.

Harvesters also reaches out each year to volunteers who’ve hosted annual holiday events and asks if they’re interested in hosting additional ones throughout the year.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t be afraid to ask holiday volunteers to participate in more than one event.

Maximizing Volunteer Engagement: Turn Volunteers into Donors and Advocates

Harvesters keeps in touch with their volunteers by adding them to their mailing lists; this way, they’re receiving the same information as other supporters and donors. In addition, they encourage volunteers to bring donations with them when they volunteer or to donate to the virtual food drives before their event.

Further, they ask for food and/or monetary donations while they’re at Harvesters.

Their largest campaign, Check-Out Hunger, runs November through the beginning of January. It’s a partnership with all the retail grocers that’s developed during the past 27 years where customers have the option to scan donation amounts ranging from 1 to 20 dollars at checkout.  

Many volunteers “adopt” their local grocery stores and encourage their community to donate at the register.  A major factor to campaign success has been finding highly committed volunteers who are willing to take some ownership in making sure their store is successful.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t be afraid to ask volunteers for help that extends beyond their original scope of work.

Maximizing Volunteer Satisfaction: Turn Events into Meaningful Volunteer Experiences


The holiday season and end-of-year giving are an important time for raising funds to fight hunger. More than half the money raised over the course of a year will be donated in the last two months of the calendar year.

However, Harvesters has developed a robust and diverse fundraising strategy that incorporates individual, corporate, foundation and other organization year-round appeals. During the holiday season, the fundraising team works to develop a match challenge to encourage donors to give so their gift can provide twice as many meals. This appeal is communicated through direct mail, email marketing, social media (including #GivingTuesday) and the website.

Positive community relationships take time, energy and effort, and Harvesters has worked hard to build a strong reputation and  brand awareness in Kansas City. People enjoy volunteering at Harvesters and want to come back again because of their commitment to a positive volunteer experience.

When people volunteer with Harvesters, they won’t ever feel as if their help is not needed or leave an event without being thanked for their service. Over time, they’ve developed a smooth operation;  volunteers are given specific volunteer instructions and tasks. In addition, leadership makes a concerted effort to communicate that volunteer contributions are  important and meaningful work that matters. Keeping volunteers busy and showing them that their help is truly needed to fulfill the mission makes a huge difference. Click To Tweet

TAKEAWAY: Improve volunteer retention by improving the volunteer experience.

For more information on how to volunteer with Harvesters, check out their current opportunities here.

Danielle Pinnell is the Community Engagement Manager for Individuals and Organizations. The volunteers and groups she works with most closely are individuals, schools and faith-based organizations. Her team helps to schedule all aspects of engagement such as volunteering, hosting a food drive and having a Harvesters representative speak with their group.

Logan Heley is the Corporate Community Engagement Manager for Harvesters. He uses his Broadcast Journalism and History degree in TV and radio interviews. As a Kansas City native, he’s volunteered and collected for Harvesters since he was a kid. Now, he helps others volunteer and collect food and money for Harvesters.

About Harvesters—The Community Food Network

Harvesters, which was founded in 1979, is a certified member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, serving all 50 states. For more information, visit