AFP Emerging Leaders: A Q&A With Becca McKeithen
In this Q&A, AFP chats with emerging leader Becca McKeithen, founder and executive director of FoodRaising Friends Inc., and member of the AFP West Florida Chapter, about her journey to starting her own nonprofit organization and how the AFP community has helped her grow professionally.
1. How did you start your career in the fundraising profession, and what lead you there?
As an educator and mother, the concept and my future in the nonprofit sector and fundraising began at school. Upon finding out that students in the school I served, my own children's peers, were literally going home to bare cabinets and empty refrigerators at a higher rate than the national average, I knew something had to be done.
Thankfully, my knowledge led to advocacy for the children at risk, and I was able to call upon the community to make a change; and FoodRaising Friends was founded in 2018. Well, creating change isn't free. By incorporating, gaining 501 c3 status, and keeping programs funded, I learned the non-profit sector through hands-on personal experiences. A big lesson, serving others, is important but has a cost, making it necessary to hone my skills and learn the best practices in fundraising.
2. What is a current challenge you or your peers are facing in regards to your professional fundraising career?
In Northwest Florida, COVID gave nonprofits unique challenges we had never faced before. In the beginning, in our industry, the community shared concern for students at risk for hunger. That led to very generous donations that helped us reach the children and families in our program month to month until school resumed in August 2021.
However, initial generosity got lost as people began losing jobs, being extended to pay for childcare, maintained employment, and higher grocery and utility bills since their children were home. All of this while children transitioned to online and virtual education, led by parents and people in our area, began to get tapped out. I imagine other states faced their own challenges specific to the directives handed down by state and local governments.
The challenges of people not having additional funding to give in our area and the need nearly doubling in Northwest Florida, specifically Santa Rosa County, was due to the lack of high-paying, college-level, and salary positions. Most families are hourly wage workers who did not have paid time off, lost their wages completely due to the lack of commerce in the shutdown, and did not have savings to cover these new challenges. So, we faced a need increase but a decrease in local donations. FoodRaising Friends turned to federal grants, national grants, local grants, and a few donors whose income was not impacted greatly to navigate this new time and fund our program through COVID.
3. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
The family of friends we have created at FoodRaising Friends is what I am most proud of. My biggest brag would be on the amazing volunteers in this family. Success for FoodRaising Friends is the investment of our community, school, and program members who volunteer, donate, and have kept FoodRaising Friends the prominent food resource for children in Northwest Florida! Each year we serve 15 schools, various other programs, and during COVID provided 444,000 meals to the community. Without the family of Friends, we can't exist.
I call the FoodRaising Friends Pantry our special pantry because many of the people who volunteer come because they were a child who would have needed food resources like what we provide through our program. We have a 100% satisfaction rate with our school as of May 31, 2021, which I know our volunteers are very proud of (and they should be)!
4. Talk a little bit about a mentor/coach/boss you’ve had that has helped you in your career.
Personally, I can attribute 90% of my personal success to the investment my mentors have had in me. The director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida, Paula Shell, is a partner organization to FoodRaising Friends. She committed time weekly to investing in my leadership skills and nonprofit knowledge in the early days and still meets with me as often as needed. In addition, FoodRaising Friends has volunteers who are national speaking coaches and have taken the time to help me with branding and messaging our mission on the public platforms when I am offered opportunities to speak and advocate for our children.
Mentorship is truly the most valued gift I have been given; I have mentors I truly do not deserve, such as Silver McDonald, the former General Manager of LEGO Education North America. Like, what? A little small-town girl has built relationships with people I never thought I would have due to mentorship; I am just so grateful to all of them!
5. How has AFP and the community (AFP Global and/or your chapter) helped you with your success?
In the spirit of learning as I go, I became aware of the AFP West Florida Chapter via Facebook while looking for networking resources and joined. In the first year, I did not utilize my membership for all it had to offer, and about five months after joining COVID happened. I watched AFP, saw the local powerhouse organization's foundation and advancement leaders in the AFP community, and watched from a distance, reading the articles via email. Finally, after a year of membership, I responded to a post about serving on the local board.
Personally, I threw my name in the ring, not thinking the board would be interested in hosting me, as I was new to the fundraising profession. However, the now past-president, Meagan Leonard, called me and did a phone interview during COVID-19, and what I felt was unattainable became a perfect fit. I now serve as the communications chair for AFP West Florida, and this position and the new level of involvement I have with the local chapter have been a game-changer for me.
Today, I am a stronger fundraiser, have made strong connections, and supported the group of fundraisers in our chapters through COVID-19. My skills have improved, and I have a sounding board for the fears and pitfalls of our position, thankful for our local AFP West Florida Chapter!
6. What is your dream job?
Can I answer without being vain? My job is my dream job. The passion of my heart became my position, and I know the work I do every day makes a difference for children! As an educator, I loved my role, and I knew I made an impact; as a nonprofit leader, FoodRaising Friends reached thousands of more children each year. I know our organization is literally changing the lives of children and their future outcomes because we know food matters!