Top of Mind: D'Amato, Extended Version
JB: How you do manage morale when you’re always pushing the rock up the hill to get bigger and better?
CD: Well, it’s not so much to be bigger and better. It’s that we are always challenged with meeting what the need is. So, the need is 500,000 people, and we’re serving 350,000, we haven’t met the need. And then a recession comes, and then your difference just got wider. And that’s when you sit there and go, “Okay, the world just went from 500,000 people to 700,000 people and I’m still at 350. I’ve got to work harder and faster and smarter and think of collaborations and think in ways I hadn’t thought about.”
…I think for anybody working today, whether you’re working in a nonprofit or not, you’re feeling—well, look at your own industry. You never thought you’d be laid off, and you sit there and go, “And…am I next?” We’ve faced that here. We froze wages in October and we’ve moved into this new building and our fundraising is still doing fine but it’s more—so the staff, we’re going to address that question soon. …Our commitment here is to keep jobs, to keep people working, to keep their healthcare, to keep them cared for so that we can care for the others.
JB: On a different topic: I learned that you sing once a season at Fenway. Is that nerve-racking?
CD: No, it’s fun. It’s my only Bruce Springsteen moment. …Fenway’s just a special place—the park is great and being on the field is great. Having come from California, I’m a Fenway faithful, like many people when they come here. It’s a fun way to connect to something that’s creative. And it surprises people. They’re like, “Oh, you sing.” There are a lot of leaders in our town that might be painters or who-knows-what-else, and it really keeps them going. For me, music is just a piece that’s fun to share. It is pretty awesome. Night games are a little more awesome, I don’t know why. Because it’s night and the lights are on, it feels more serious.
JB: When was the first time you did it?
CD: I think this was six years ago? There was a particular staffer who knew [I sang] and pitched the idea. And I said, “You’re nuts. Get out of here. They’re not going to let me sing.” But they did ask me to do. …I was fortunate that I sang as a kid, I went to college on a public speaking scholarship, did theater in high school, and so it fits for me. I’m comfortable.
Music is a great creative outlet for me, it balances some of the other pieces of my life. I enjoy it as a writer. I have the ability to write a lot of different genres.
JB: Is there a favorite one?
CD: Folk and jazz. I always refer to my own stuff as “flazz.” I can write country, I can write Latin, I can write—you know I could have easily gone this way, but I went this way. Those moments in time, you know…nobody grows up to be a food banker. You don’t go get a degree in it; you find our own way in it.
JB: You’ve done this in food banking specifically, acting in nonprofits broadly, in San Francisco, western Massachusetts, then here. What are the particular secrets to success in this sphere in Boston?
CD: Boston’s very much a relationship city. Relationships are important, and I think they’re deep. …Boston’s a place where people have been here for generations and families, whereas people go to San Francisco to get away from someplace else. The cities have similar ethnic communities, similar histories in terms of immigration, but are very different in terms of size. Boston’s small enough, yet big enough. And the corporate community here is very generous….
…There’s a sense of pride in knowing the Greater Boston Food Bank puts nearly $40 million worth of resources into this community, that we’re part of it, that we’re part of its heartbeat, that people can have better days and buy their kids shoes and clothes and books and do things in a way that maybe they couldn’t if they didn’t have the food resources to do it. …This board was very purposeful in staying in Boston, and we are in name the Greater Boston Food Bank, and we serve nine counties, and 190 cities, and 83,000 people a week.
JB: Obviously, everybody in the nonprofit sphere has a social mission for the betterment of one thing or another. But there are particular groups that you see as competitors for resources, in a sense?
CD: The issue of hunger, and the fact that we have 8 1/2 percent unemployment, that we’re in a city that’s been hurt by the economic crisis in the financial industry—it’s kind of the Maslow hierarchy issue. People say, “If I have a dollar, and that’s all I have, where am I going to make the greatest impact?” We are seeing people make choices about giving, and the food bank—or food, hunger—has a priority over art or some other activity. It’s an odd truth: In our business, when there’s a bad time, the demand for our services goes up but the giving tends to also rise a little bit, whereas another nonprofit would be more likely to fall….