Securing Volunteers and Donations for Food
Asking people to help out — either as a volunteer or as a donor — is intimidating, but there's nothing to be scared of. Your community members will be happy to help out, especially if you ask in the right ways.
Set yourself a goal of getting every last meal, snack and drink donated to the project. Does someone in your town make amazing barbeque or famous fruit pies? Write down every resource you can think of: people, businesses, organizations, and institutions. Remember that personal connections between friends, family, schoolmates, co-workers and neighbors are your key to the city! Start with the people you know and build a network from the inside out.
(This is just a small sampling!)
When people are linked together as a group, they represent another level of community skills and resources. Some organizations may be willing to prepare the food you need, or co-sponsor a donation program. They also have large membership networks...take advantage of their people power!
- Service clubs (Rotary, Junior League, etc. )
- Business associations
- Fraternal organizations (Elks, Knights, etc. )
- Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts
- Cultural organizations
- Neighborhood organizations
- Home economics classes
- Local colleges/universities
- Labor unions
Local Businesses to Consider
- Grocery stores
- Catering businesses
- Discount retailers
- Party-supply stores
- Restaurant suppliers
- Food wholesalers/distributors
Read a detailed guide on identifying community resources in the Community Involvement section of the Toolkit.
Ways to contribute
Stores may be willing to extend a certain amount of store credit so that you can buy what you need for free. This is ideal for snack items like chips or crackers, beverages and disposable supplies like paper plates and cups.
Donation of food
Individuals might prepare their favorite dish, while clubs or associations can get together and prepare full home-cooked meals. Local restaurants or cafeterias can get involved by donating a platter of snacks or desserts, a breakfast spread, or a boxed lunch for each volunteer. It's great advertising for local businesses — all of your volunteers are potential customers! Ask owners if they'd like to promote a new menu item, new location or special deal by sponsoring one or more meals at the build.
Businesses and organizations may be willing to loan you large coolers, cookware, a soda fountain or a popcorn popper. Promise them that whatever they donate will be returned in the same condition, or you will replace it. If they want, they can watch over their item by sending food volunteers!
Donation of labor
Businesses that donate food may also donate their delivery and/or catering services. You should also mention to any potential donor that you're looking for all kinds of volunteers during the build; they can spread word to their employees and/or offer incentives for volunteering.
Your plans are only as good as the people who will implement them — so look for people you trust! Your Food Team members will help you solicit food and supplies, prepare meals as needed, pick up and make deliveries, and serve food during events. They should be positive and energetic, and they should have a strong belief in the project.
Does anyone come to mind? Go recruit them! Aim for one to four regular team members, and reach out to diverse segments of the community. While you're recruiting, keep a list of people who are interested in the project but are too busy to become a team member; they may come in handy when you need volunteers for some of your activities.
Asking for Donations
For many food teams, this is the first major stumbling block. You know that people are interested in your project, you know that they've been generous in the past...but how do you summon the courage to go up and ask them? Two words: be prepared! If you're prepared then you'll feel confident, and if you feel confident you'll inspire trust. There are three important aspects to a successful "ask" — before, during and after.
Before the Pitch
Tailor your approach
Why should this person, organization or business be interested in a community-build project? Have they given in the past? How does a new playspace affect them?
Practice your pitch
What are you going to say? What types of questions do you expect the donor to ask? What will you say if he or she expresses doubt or says no? Write out a script and practice it several times with friends, family and team members. Check out our sample script.
Know the specifics
Before people make a commitment, they're going to want to know the details. How many volunteers are you feeding? Do you need the food delivered, and to what address? Will you personally be there to receive it? Where and how will it be stored? What time does it need to arrive? (KaBOOM! recommends that hot meals be delivered no more than an hour before they are served.) How will you handle leftovers and non-disposable dishes?
Find the person in charge
If you're approaching a business or organization, find out who is authorized to make a commitment to your project. When in doubt, go straight to the top.
During the Pitch
Be polite and positive
Nobody likes a pity party! Rather than focusing on the old, sad playspace or your near-bankrupt school district, inspire your donors to get involved in a life-changing community experience. Describe your vision of a neighborhood coming together to pool its resources and enact positive change...they'll want to be a part of it.
What will they get out of it? Examples:it will be great fun; they'll feel great about helping children; it will be covered in the media and highly visible in the community. Use one or use them all!
If they agree to donate, get it in writing
People are much more likely to come through if they've signed a written agreement. We recommend creating a generic form - "I, (name), agree to provide (coffee and donuts) for (100) playspace volunteers on (date). This contribution is valued at approximately ($100)." If your organization is an incorporated non-profit, donors can use this statement, along with the confirmation letter you'll send, for tax purposes. Be sure to record appropriate contact information for each donor.
Turn a "no" into a learning experience
If your pitch is unsuccessful, ask why. Do they need more advance notice? Is it too tall an order? Do they feel that they wouldn't benefit very much? Their answers might give you clues on how to re-phrase your pitch next time. Be sure to offer them different options for getting involved in the project. If it's still a no, ask them if they can refer you to another organization or business who might be interested.
After the pitch
Follow up "yes" with a confirmation letter
This confirms the donation and makes sure that all details are clear; you can also extend a formal invitation to the build or other sponsored event. Follow up "maybe" with another pitch. Ideally you'll get a commitment during your first visit, but if not be persistent! Always secure a face-to-face meeting with your potential donor; it will be harder to say no. Follow up "no" with a thank-you letter. If someone took the time to meet with you and consider your proposal, a "thank you" is in order!
Work with your Public Relations Captain to recognize donors
People like to feel appreciated, and many business sponsors will expect a certain level of public recognition. (But be sure to ask them first! Some benefactors prefer to remain anonymous.) If they desire recognition, major donors' names should be included on the ribbon cutting program and in media interviews, and all donors should receive thank you's after the build.
Keep donors informed
Donors want to feel that they're a part of something special, so include them in upcoming events. Give them periodic progress reports, and send them committee newsletters.
"We learned our lesson the hard way. We thought that if we just sent out letters seeking donations, we could save time and energy from actually having to go around and visit the restaurants and stores ourselves. Well, no one responds to just a letter. They respond to people."
-Sonia, Columbus playground build