Saturday, December 06, 2008

Food Bank

One of my clients for several years was the Oregon Food Bank. This was during that period after the first PC revolution, before open source, when a solo coder, slinging dBase, could tend electronic crops all over town, little gardens of source code. I worked for Methodist campers (United Methodists), homeless youth (Burnside Projects), the homeless in general (Sisters of the Road).

I've been doing this work for quite awhile, and then so was my partner Dawn Wicca (as a non-profit bookkeeper, not a coder), such that as of today I count like 92 clients in my DWA / 4D database, most of them long gone off my radar, though I archive old invoices.

When I was a youngster, economists spoke frequently and intelligently about an intangible asset called "good will", which they actually assigned a book value in some systems.

Food Banks serve a dual purpose in that they provide a small allowance of proteins and carbs, for families ineligible for further credit and unable to make ends meet. This forestalls social chaos, looting, urban degradation, rural cannibalism (joke).

But there's another focus as well: sponsors get their decals strewn about in ways that help them in the "good will" department, even though in many cases disposing of excess capacity is more a way to keep the stuff out of landfills (that looks really bad, any time the press runs with it -- happens every day, stuff spoils, stores drop their order numbers).

Good will is an asset in terms of building customer loyalty, and brand loyalty is the name of the game in any differentiated market offering lots of choices. When the choices narrow to just a few providers, you'll find complacency sets in and the top dogs start enjoying their power to lord it over.

When there's a tyrant in the house, you know it, because he (or she) laughs in your face if you ask for improvements. That's called earning "ill will" and is less directly talked about in Economics (seems too negative, who'd want that on the books?). If you've been a tyrant, then suddenly need help, the public many not be well disposed to honor your plight, given this elusive "ill will" line item.

So food banks, other charities, serve a truly bottom line related function. They're not just "overhead" for super-disposable extra extra income, but are more like a cost of doing business, same as politicians (easily modeled as additional charities in some business software, or as basket cases as is sometimes the case).

Respected sports figures also earn good will for their backers, including race car drivers. If you're a motor oil brand, but don't have a racing team, how do you plan to stay in the game? The public wants confirmation, through marketing and charitable giving, that you (a) still exist and (b) have a vision for the future (a plan).

Anyway, this is all pretty standard fare I'm guessing, not something you'd not know if studying at Harvard or one of those. But maybe you've not thought in these terms before, Economics being a somewhat unfamiliar subject, especially since Home Economics got stricken from the curriculum, probably the one most practical disciplines, key to wise budgeting, smart eating -- everything a "mindless consumer" is not supposed to know about ("the better to rip you off and leave you with nothing my dearies" -- monopolist talking).