Appetite to help the hungry

Helping the hungry: Ian Laing is the general manager of strategic partnerships at Foodbank Australia. He said people in the country are 33 per cent more likely to be food insecure.

Ian Laing is the general manager of strategic partnerships at Foodbank Australia. In this Q and A, he talks about his work at Foodbank Australia, the key features of successful partnerships and what to do when a partnership goes pear-shaped.

You started as a marketing consultant, then worked in corporate partnerships for 20 years, including at IMG, a global leader in sports and entertainment marketing. Tell us a bit about your intriguing career journey to date.

You could say I like to experience lots of different aspects of the marketing and fundraising world! I started in grocery retail in the UK, worked in an ad agency, spent six years in the world’s biggest sports marketing agency and then moved to Australia in 2011.

You also worked for the Australian Paralympic Committee. What was that like?

It was a real privilege to work with amazing athletes who represented Australia so well and were all eager to support the marketing and commercial growth of the organisation. It was a big challenge, but they’ve now got one of the best programs of any Paralympic organisation in the world.

After the corporate world, what attracted you to work at Foodbank Australia?

My role at the Paralympics was a hybrid of sponsorship, marketing and fundraising. I loved having a great cause to support. My daughter started school earlier this year and was asking why some kids get their breakfast handed out to them, which led to an in-depth conversation about why some people have things and others don’t. Just a week later, I saw the Foodbank role come up and knew immediately that was what I wanted to do next.

We have a feeling that people are relying on food banks more than ever. What are you seeing?

We release a major study in October each year. From the 2018 numbers, we know that the need is increasing, particularly in areas affected by the drought. People in country areas are 33 per cent more likely to be food insecure. However, we also see a growing need in metro areas too. Many of these are ‘normal’ people who are experiencing short-term problems – a big bill, a change in work hours, an injury that prevents them from working. Food insecurity is not just an issue for the poor.

What is your vision for corporate partnerships at Foodbank Australia?

It’s great that we have a brilliant group of financial donors already. What excites me is that many of them have shown appetite to do a lot more. We’re also investigating how we tie funding to different groups of people needing help. Our current model is based around tied funding for product (milk program, meat program, etc.). We can improve how we tell the story of the difference Foodbank makes to millions of people each year.

What are the joys and challenges in your work?

In corporate partnerships, it’s a wild ride! You can experience great joy in bringing a fantastic idea to life with a partner, knowing the money will be well used and going to people in real need. The biggest frustration would be ‘tyre-kicker’ brands who show interest but take forever to make decisions! I also have a bugbear about non-profits being asked to do competitive tendering for roster spaces with corporate CSR programs.

What are the key features of successful partnerships?

Trust, great communication, will to deliver and clear expectations upfront about what everyone is seeking to achieve.

What do you look for in a potential partner? How do you craft a shared vision?

Increasingly we are looking at their capacity to deliver. Structuring great corporate partnerships takes time, energy and deep commitment. I feel some organisations can get hung up on the volume of corporate partners they have rather than working really well with a smaller, committed group.

We have a very clear vision: End Hunger. It’s beautifully simple.

Have you had a partnership go wobbly, and how did you get it back on track? Any advice for other fundraisers?  

Several! More so in my days in sports organisations, but the same rules apply. Always give bad news down the phone first and be super open and transparent with your partners. A couple I’ve worked with became closer to the organisation by working really well together in a moment of difficulty.

What have been some of your most exciting fundraising projects?

I think working with Woolworths both during my time at Paralympics and now with Foodbank. They are a great partner in terms of the scale of the business and a willingness to genuinely make the world a better place.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m not sure what qualifies as middle age, but I do ride around in lycra a lot. Between that and two young children, my days are pretty full!