The Lowdown on Finding More Upside

Tips for Increasing a Nonprofit’s Impact

AnnMarie Zimmermann, Executive Director, Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen

Just ask Darwin. It’s not the strongest, fastest or biggest that thrives; it’s those who have the ability to adapt. At Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen, a California Bay Area food provider for the disadvantaged, we reinvented ourselves from a mom-and-pop soup kitchen to a broad-ranging caterer – better able to meet the ever-changing needs of the community, while raising awareness and attracting more donors.

We now serve more than 30,000 meals a month, on track to serve over 350,000 meals this year. Up 109% from 2015 -- and still growing.

Here’s how we did it:

The first change came from a request from our head chef. We were operating out of multiple church kitchens, wherever we could find one, with only limited access. The head chef simply said, “If you could get me more hours in a kitchen, I can produce more meals.” We found a commissary where we could rent kitchen time by the hour, which we did, supplementing the other kitchens, and voila – more hours in the kitchen and more meals.

We have close relationships with other nonprofits that have the same client base; for example, sharing outreach information and making referrals to each other. Why not amp up the impact each organization has by working more closely together? We approached a few of our fellow nonprofits and asked if they were interested in our delivering prepared meals to their location at no cost, making it much easier for our mutual clients. Rather than the clients having to find their way to multiple locations, they could now get the much needed services of two nonprofits in one location. This action increased the number of clients we serve by 40%.

Once we proved we could operate effectively in the commissary, we centralized the kitchen there. Sure, this cost more, especially with the new delivery service. But we easily made up for it by renegotiating the rents of the other spaces (due to reduced kitchen usage), cutting non-core programs, and saving person-hours by eliminating the time spent driving between locations and setting up and tearing down multiple kitchens. Now the chefs were spending their time doing what they do best – cooking hot, nutritious meals. 

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties chose us as a special partner to help them achieve their mission. With this special designation came additional infrastructure and food. We couldn’t have made this transformation without them. 

We now had abundant capacity, which we were committed to maximizing. So we asked a nonprofit 17 times larger than Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen if they would be interested in having us bring our service to them. The timing was perfect; they were investigating a more reliable solution to their meal program than their existing volunteer-based approach. We entered into a 90-day trial. They instantly became our largest “customer” and we worked very closely with them to monitor effectiveness and measure results and client satisfaction. After the 90-day period, the metrics clearly showed that nutrition went up as costs went down and their clients were more satisfied.

About a year into the Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen transformation, a development company offered us their new industrial kitchen – in a low-income housing facility -- rent free, in exchange for feeding their residents three meals a day, seven days a week. We cautiously explored the opportunity because we would need to cook two additional meals a day, plus add weekends. We weren’t sure how it would work out, so we kept the rental kitchen for two months as a backup until we got a feel for the operation and the new partnership. To be safe, we outsourced some of our newer delivery services to be able to flex this expense as necessary.

We shared social media posts with our nonprofit partners, and talked about the changes in our newsletter and marketing collateral. Word began to spread, and we found that donors were beginning to respond positively (read: donating!) to the efficiencies and collaborations.

Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen expanded its reach and extended its capabilities through this two-year transformation, and continues to grow. To learn more, visit

AnnMarie Zimmermann is executive director of Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen. She brings more than 25 years of experience to this role, building teams and transforming businesses to become the organizations they envisioned.