Advice for Coordinators:
  • Start recruiting restaurants and businesses as early as possible.  When eating in the restaurant, ask to speak to the manager and tell them about your program.  Try to make a connection before you ask for something.
     
  • In these tough economic times, be sure to cast a wide net and try to work with businesses on a budget.  Even the smallest donation (like window space to promote an event) can be an important first step to building a relationship for when times improve!
     
  • Send follow-up letters and thank business managers for participating.

Where: Ridgecrest, California

Who: More than 300 afterschool youth and more than 250 adult participants, including local legislators, school administration representatives, teachers, and parents.


Highlights:

Three area restaurants in a small military community were the chief sponsors of Lights On Afterschool rallies at four Southern Sierra Boys & Girls Club and Sierra Sands Unified School District afterschool program sites.  The restaurants donated food and space inside the restaurant to promote the rally and gift certificates for contest winners.


The Program:

The afterschool program at the Southern Sierra Boys & Girls Club approached three area restaurants—a McDonald’s franchise, a Pizza Factory (a small four-outlet chain) and a Charley’s (also a franchise)—two to three months before their Lights On Afterschool event and asked for support for local events.  The three restaurants—one at each elementary school afterschool program site—signed on to be the chief sponsor for the rally and help promote the event.  In addition to donating food, each restaurant allowed youth to post flyers and invitations encouraging the general public to attend.

In the weeks before the event, each restaurant sponsored a logo competition for area youth.  Children submitted logo artwork—which was displayed in the eateries, thus promoting both the Lights On Afterschool events and the restaurant's support—and patrons and restaurant staff voted for their favorites.  In addition, the restaurant managers visited the afterschool programs to present gift certificates to the contest winners.  After the winners were announced, the entries were used again in the restaurant to promote Lights On Afterschool around town.


The Outcomes:

Partnering with area restaurants to promote Lights On Afterschool resulted in the best-attended Lights On Afterschool in Ridgefield ever!  Because Ridgefield is a small community, disseminating information about the rally in the restaurants—outside of the school walls—made a huge impact on participation and buzz. 

The afterschool programs, now run by High Desert Leapin’ Lizards, Inc., have continued its relationship with the restaurants. One of the restaurants continues to sponsor, organize, and run a field hockey team at one of the afterschool programs, a direct result of the relationship developed during the Lights On Afterschool rally.

Event organizers plan to continue to involve local business in afterschool events and activities and hope to leverage the support into a funding commitment. 


Overheard at the Event: 

  • “The afterschool program has helped my child academically, socially, and emotionally.  We are in awe of the experiences they provide for kids!”
     
  • “What fun!  I wish we had this type of program when we were kids!”


Keys to Success:

“In a small town, people want to support the kids in the community,” said organizer Sandra Goldstein.  In her community, Goldstein explained, many of the adults working in restaurants, banks, and shops have a strong connection to the local schools—they either have kids who currently attend or who used to attend school locally.  Putting that connection to work is key.

Goldstein urges organizers to think through and use the connections they’ve developed over the years.  She credits much of the success of her partnerships to the everyday interactions in a small town or rural community.  For example, one of the local restaurant managers sent her child to the afterschool program at the Boys & Girls Club.  The manager saw the benefits of afterschool programs in her child’s life, making it much easier to ask the business to support the program.  The manager was already sold on the program’s value. 

Goldstein also encourages organizers to make sure that the businesses know what’s in it for them!  In the written invitation Goldstein listed the ways the restaurant would benefit.  For example, she offered the restaurants the chance to offer samples and promotional materials at the rally, an opportunity for a company representative to speak at the opening ceremony, and recognition as a sponsor in all media materials about the Southern Sierra Boys & Girls Club Lights On Afterschool event, including media advisories and press releases.