Congratulations to our President & CEO Jaynee Day, named CEO of the Year by The Nashville Post. The below article appeared in The Nashville Post Magazine.
By: Linda Bryant
Jaynee Day nears the 30-year mark helming Second Harvest with her entrepreneurial fire still burning bright.
Enduring organizations combine consistent innovation and the ability to adapt with a thorough understanding of their customers and attention to the bottom line. Those that stand out from the crowd also have built a reputation as great places to work and are examples for others when it comes to leadership and best practices.
Check all those boxes when it comes to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. And look to Jaynee Day, the nonprofit’s president and CEO for the past 29 years, as its fulcrum and fire.
Day was hired as president and CEO of Second Harvest in 1988 soon after she moved from the Midwest to Nashville to live closer to family. The agency was decidedly smaller than it is today, and Day confesses she was woefully uninformed about hunger issues when she landed the job.
“I’d worked in nonprofit management, but I didn’t know anything about food, food storage or logistics when I first came to the job,” Day says. “I was hired for administrative skills because I’d been executive director of the Des Moines Hearing and Speech Center and executive director of the Community Foundation of Iowa.
“We had less than 10 employees and moved 1.5 million pounds of food that [first] year,” she adds. “Last year, we did over 31 million pounds to more than 490 partner agencies throughout a 46-county service area in Middle and West Tennessee. I guess you could say we’ve grown extensively.”
If you talk to Day’s colleagues, many will tell you Second Harvest’s dramatic growth — the nonprofit has grown from 10 employees to 105 during her tenure — is largely attributable to her leadership. However, and with humility, she’s quick to point out that the growth reflects community need more so than her efforts.
“I didn’t understand the impact hunger has on people’s lives,” Day says. “But I learned quickly and got hooked on the front end. I’ve been going strong ever since. It’s not hard because the mission of feeding hungry people is so very compelling.
“If you are hungry, you can’t learn,” she continues. “If you’re sick and you’re not taking your medicine and don’t have a nutritional diet, you’re not going to get better.”
‘Not done yet’
Based in MetroCenter, Second Harvest generated about $55 million in revenue in 2016, a figure that includes grants, donations and sales from social enterprise and money from investments. And for an industry in which turnover is legendary, Day has managed to stay put as CEO for almost three decades.
Hal Cato, CEO of Thistle Farms and a veteran of both Nashville-area nonprofit and for-profit companies, says he’s impressed, but not surprised, by Day’s endurance.
“Working in nonprofits has a reputation of being a high-burnout job with a lot of stress,” Cato says. “Most of the statistics I’ve seen show CEOs don’t often stay longer than a few years. Jaynee’s defying the odds. She’s focused on the mission like no one I’ve ever seen. She personifies persistence.
“Jaynee continues to stay in the job and be very effective at what she does because she’s simply not done yet,” Cato adds. “She weathers through. And when people tell her it can’t be done, she figures out a way to raise the money, do it anyway and serve more people in the process. Everyone learns from her and wants to emulate her — from CEOs of huge companies to nonprofit leaders to volunteers.”
Although it’s a bit hard to gauge exactly how many years nonprofit leaders stay at their jobs on average, research confirms that the time span is considerably less than the period Day has devoted to Second Harvest. A 2015 survey of 800 agencies by NonProfit Times magazine found the average tenure of a nonprofit executive to be 12 years, while a similar national report commissioned by United Way showed average tenure at 6.1 years.
An entrepreneurial approach
Cato is also impressed by Day’s “entrepreneurial mindset,” which he says is responsible for Second Harvest’s growing reputation as one of the best-run nonprofit food distribution agencies in the world.
“She embraced an entrepreneurial mindset early on, and you can see it in Second Harvest’s innovative programs,” he says. “Janyee has a wonderful ability to implement new ideas, and that’s something that continues to impress both nonprofit and for-profit [companies].”
Second Harvest COO Kimberly Molnar agrees with Cato. Having worked at the agency for 10 years under the guidance of Day, Molnar describes a boss who thrives at the intersection of “entrepreneurship and good works.”
Molnar points to the success of Second Harvest’s Project Preserve manufacturing program, which Day spearheaded, as an example. Project Preserve helps extend the shelf life of perishable products and provides another component to the agency’s nutritional food offerings. Part and parcel to the program is a cook-chill manufacturing facility that produces more than 50 boil-in-a-bag products.
“We are now producing a shelf-stable spaghetti sauce,” Molnar says “It is revolutionary, and to think a food bank is able to pull it off is phenomenal. It’s because of Jaynee’s leadership, her willingness to let her staff go and be as creative as they can be.”
Day admits she’s proud of the results of Project Preserve, which supplies nutritious, manufactured meals and bulk grocery products to beneficiaries in Middle Tennessee and to 180 food banks across the country.
She offers Second Harvest’s signature spaghetti sauce as a symbol of the agency’s ability to innovate.
A few years ago, a donor farmer approached the agency saying he could on an ongoing basis donate up to 40,000 pounds of tomatoes each month.
“The tomatoes were no longer marketable but still very edible,” Day recalls of the initial meeting. “We had to move pretty quickly to come up with a solution.”
Working in concert with many entities, Day and her team did just that, again showing what Cato and Molnar say is one of her trademark moves. In short, she harnesses the brainpower and resources of the corporations and businesses that support Second Harvest.
With the help of donor companies such as food distribution giant Sysco and produce distributor Freshpoint, Second Harvest came up with an efficient process for making, packaging, storing and distributing the marinara sauce.
“We now distribute some kind of marinara or spaghetti sauce with every emergency food box,” Day says. “It’s a great product that’s low in sodium and has a stable shelf life up to 18 months. It’s a very cost effective product and reduces food waste.”
Quick responses, adaptability key
As Day sees it, being a competent, effective and responsible CEO means being agile and having the ability to “turn on a dime.”
“You never know when an opportunity is going to become available whether it’s volunteers or a financial donor,” she says.
Over the years, Second Harvest evolved from being a food bank that distributed standard food boxes stocked primarily with preserved and nonperishable foods such as canned goods, cereal, rice, beans and peanut butter to one that includes fruits and vegetables, and milk and meat, among other fresh foods.
Day says the trend towards fresh food in the culture-at-large continues to open up possibilities for food donations from various donors — from grocery stores to working farms.
Case in point: Second Harvest now gleans food from more than 25 farms in Middle Tennessee. Day says the trend is expected to continue. Not surprisingly, that’s a wonderful thing for the users of the service.
Conversely, it presents Second Harvest new challenges, such as determining how to prepare, preserve, store and distribute the food.
This could mean anything from buying new trucks to securing a grant or donation to fund the acquisition of a new food line. Despite the added challenges, Day is thrilled because Second Harvest’s end users benefit.
“Our clients don’t often have access to produce or fresh food,” Day says. “When people are hungry, they often turn to foods high in sodium or fat just to fill up. To get more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet is a big deal.”
One fresh food donation that presented a challenge occurred when a green bean distributor in Crossville contacted Second Harvest to offer a potentially ongoing donation of green beans that didn’t meet industry standards.
Ordinarily the beans are “plowed under” as a part of the farming process, which poses an additional expense for the distributor.
Day had to act quickly to find funding for a production line that would pull and clean the beans and put them in totes.
“[The owner of the company] didn’t want to waste the food; he wanted to feed hungry people,” Day says. “We had to think outside the box [to accommodate his donation].
“The beans have to be cooled and cleaned immediately,” Day says. “Now we have good, fresh green beans from May to October. It’s a wonderful product with a shelf life of 18 days, and the donor saves money and reduces food waste.”
Regarding formidable challenges, Day has her hands full with a $20 million capital campaign launched in 2015. The need for funds is being driven by the need to serve more people.
“The goal is to extend the Nashville footprint, to increase capacity and distribution, and to add additional centers in Benton County in West Tennessee and Rutherford County,” Day says.
To date, the agency has raised “only” $7 million. Day is undeterred.
“People have been very generous and continue to be,” she says. “I know we’ll reach our goal. But raising awareness about hunger is always a challenge. People just don’t know about it. Unfortunately, over 400,000 Tennesseans are at risk of hunger every day.”
As the capital campaign advances, Day continues to educate the corporate and small business community. A contribution from retailer Dollar General helps illustrate her point. The Goodlettsville-based retailer, a longtime supporter, was looking for new ways to help the agency.
The resulting collaboration ended up solving a major dilemma for Day: Second Harvest was operating near full capacity and with an outdated distribution model. Dollar General, with years of experience in perfecting a hub-and-spoke logistics system, had the expertise and technical capacity to study, optimize and assist in a revamp of Second Harvest model.
Day says Dollar General’s optimization project actually led the way to the current capital campaign.
“The key to bringing in donors really is in education and also in finding out how our volunteers actually feel about what they can best contribute,” she says.