The World Food Prize Foundation

May 2014

Innovation and Collaboration: Using Fundraisers for Community Education

In addition to helping cover costs, fundraising events provide important opportunities for community education and engagement. The key is to design the fundraiser so that area businesses and civic organizations can participate in a variety of ways beyond the traditional role of the principal event sponsor.

This is the strategy that the Northeast Iowa Food Bank takes with its bi-annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser.

The core concept behind an “Empty Bowls” fundraising event is serving guests a simple meal of soup and bread in a locally crafted bowl, which guests are invited to take home with them as a reminder of hunger in the world. This concept lends itself to community engagement through opportunities for businesses and organizations to provide volunteers, bowls, soups, and a venue.

The recent Empty Bowls event in Waterloo included bowls donated by local artists, schools, a local decorate-it-yourself ceramics business, local woodworkers groups, and area art centers. Soups were prepared and donated by local chefs, including a high school culinary class. The partnerships with schools and woodworkers groups engaged students and craftspeople who might not otherwise participate in a fundraising meal. The partnership with the ceramics business brought in people who enjoyed decorating bowls but would not want to take their work home with them. These new customers learned about both the ceramics business and the work of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

The venue was provided by the United Auto Workers, who was a principal sponsor alongside Networking Solutions, Aspro, and the Community Services Committee. The Northeast Iowa Food Bank created further opportunities for corporate sponsorship and community involvement by holding a live and silent auction of donated items during their Empty Bowls event.

By intentionally creating opportunities for area businesses and civic groups to participate in their Empty Bowls fundraiser, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank was able to reach far more people than the 400 who purchased tickets to the event itself.

For more information about the Empty Bowls concept, visit For more information about the Empty Bowls event hosted by the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, email Niki Litzel

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