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Right on the Money: Food Trucks Make Tasty Fundraising Partners

People dining at a pizza canteen truck.

Walk beneath the office buildings and skyways of downtown Minneapolis in good weather and you’ll smell the city’s food trucks serving a range of dishes -- from tacos to samosas to gourmet pizza.

The trucks have become a popular lunch option for office workers, and Minneapolis nonprofit YouthLink jumped on the trend. The past two summers, the organization has created campaigns that use mobile food purveyors to raise money and promote awareness of its work with homeless young people. Each campaign has brought in about $1,000.

“We wanted to establish awareness of YouthLink in the broader community, particularly downtown,” says YouthLink Development and Volunteer Coordinator Jelena Song, “and [food trucks] seemed like a great way to increase our presence among that foot traffic.”

The campaigns have evolved from year to year. In 2013, YouthLink sold discount cards that donors could redeem at participating trucks. This year, Song asked trucks to donate 2 percent of one week’s sales in exchange for promotion on YouthLink’s website and in its social media feeds. The summer-long fundraiser featured 13 trucks serving a variety of cuisines.

Though $1,000 may seem modest, Song only spent about five hours of upfront work and an hour or two of weekly follow-up on this summer’s fundraiser. And she says tapping into the lunch scene may lead to future donations as YouthLink becomes more well-known among the downtown crowd.

Three Tips for Partnering With Food Trucks

1. Rely on face-to-face meetings—and time them well. “Food truck owners don’t have a lot of down time,” Song says. “They’re not sitting at a computer and reading their email correspondence.” Planning a face-to-face meeting can be tricky, however, because trucks often move from place to place. Song suggests visiting each truck’s website or Twitter feed before heading to a meeting to make sure you go to the right location.

Also keep in mind that for many food truck owners, the workday begins and ends earlier than typical business hours. Avoid making your ask during the lunchtime rush or in the early mornings when most food prep occurs. In Song’s experience, stopping by a truck right before it opens gives owners enough time to chat.

2. Tailor your request to the food truck life. Food truck owners make decisions on the fly--where to set up shop on a given day, when to close if business is slow. Asking them to  commit to a fundraiser months ahead of time doesn’t make sense, Song says. Instead, make clear, simple, short-term requests, such as asking the food truck to donate a portion of sales for one day or one week, or to contribute food at a one-time event.

3. Be flexible. Songs says she had to adapt the same flexible attitude as the food truck owners involved in the campaign. She and her interns learned to wait until the last minute to decide which truck would be highlighted on a given week, and they used social media to make real-time announcements.

Learn more about the YouthLink Summer Food Truck Fundraiser.

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