SNAP-Based Incentive Programs

This guide to planning and operating a SNAP-based incentive program at farmers’ markets is geared toward the managers, board members, staff and volunteers of Oregon farmers’ markets, both small and large, urban and rural, as well as toward the many organizations that seek to address hunger, poverty, obesity, health disparities and relocalizing our food system.

The following sections will guide you through the rationale and steps behind developing an incentive program. This is meant to be a living document so please email me@danblausteinrejto.com any insights, experience or stories you would like to be incorporated into this guide.
What is a SNAP-Based Incentive?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) assists more than 45 million Americans in meeting their dietary needs each month. If the program provided financial incentives or rewards for SNAP recipients to purchase fruit and vegetables, these people might better meet their nutritional needs.  The extra spending from the incentives would also support Oregon’s and America’s farmers.

Since Wholesome Wave launched their first “Double Value Coupon Program” in 2007, hundreds of farmers’ markets have begun to offer their own incentives for SNAP recipients to spend their federal food benefits on fresh, healthy and local food. By providing additional spending money to low-income shoppers, these programs also help dispel shoppers’ fears that farmers’ markets are too expensive. In Oregon alone, nearly 90 markets accept SNAP and at least 18 already operate incentive programs.

Why Operate a SNAP-Based Incentive at your Local Market?

Over 800,000 Oregon residents have an Oregon Trail card and use SNAP benefits. Some of these people regularly go hungry. Many suffer the consequences of poor quality diets. A SNAP-based incentive program could be a way to benefit them, local farmers and the community. Here is breakdown of benefits:

Low-income residents:
Farmers/vendors:
  • See an increase of business, helping their bottom line
  • Are able to connect with all members of the community
  • Know their produce is helping improve the health of families
Community:
  • Neighbors have an opportunity to directly help one another through their contributions
  • Local businesses have a similar opportunity to engage in the community and receive recognition for their efforts
  • Health care costs are reduced through improved diets
Market management:
  • Strengthens by attracting all members of community
  • Builds community through connecting businesses and neighbors
  • Receives feedback from underrepresented groups

For a comprehensive summary of studies that support SNAP-based incentives, read through this brief Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future report. One striking finding is that “shopping at farmers’ markets increases [fruit and vegetable] consumption among nutrition assistance participants and can be less expensive than supermarkets.”

(Adapted from the Fresh Exchange Toolkit)

How to Get Started
Before getting started on a SNAP-based incentive program, your community’s farmers’ market must first go through the procedures to accept EBT/SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), which are outlined in the EBT/SNAP guide. With an EBT/SNAP system in place, your market and community can begin planning a SNAP-based incentive program.

How do most incentive programs work?
Market staff or volunteers:

  • Swipe a customer’s Oregon Trail card at a central POS machine that processes Oregon Trail/EBT benefits, or use manual vouchers;
  • Provide the customer with $1 SNAP tokens equal in value to the amount swiped up to a matchable amount;
  • Provide additional, specially designed incentive tokens or coupons to the customer if their purchase meets certain criteria;
  • Record the value of the SNAP transaction, the value of the incentive provided, and additional information as needed in order to evaluate the program;
  • Let customers spend the SNAP tokens and incentives on SNAP-eligible purchases at the market;
  • Collect incentives from vendors and reimburse them for the total value.

When possible, many markets prefer to have a paid staff person operate the POS machine and handle the transactions, since that person is responsible for a lot of money.

$1 Token $2 Token

What foods are incentives eligible for?
Incentives are eligible for the same foods that SNAP benefits are eligible for: all foods, beverages and edible plant starts and seeds except foods that are warm and ready-to-eat and alcoholic products.
3 SNAP Eligible Foods3 SNAP Gardens
All foods, including seeds and plant starts that are NOT hot or intended to be eaten on-site, can be bought with SNAP and SNAP-based incentives.
What should be the value of the incentives?
There is a wide variety in the amount of money that incentive programs provide:

  • Ten Rivers Food Web works with several markets to provide exactly $6 in “That’s My Farmer SNAP” incentive tokens when a customer spends at least $6 in SNAP benefits
  • The Farmers Market Fund provides a dollar-for-dollar “Fresh Exchange” match up to $5 per week to spend with market vendors at several Portland Farmers Market locations
  • Adelante Mujeres provides up to $10 in “Double Value” tokens at the Forest Grove Farmers’ Market
  • Food Roots provides up to $10 in “Double Dollars” to the first 10 SNAP participants at the Tillamook and Manzanita Farmers’ Markets.
  • See an overview of 7 other models in the report Nutrition Incentives at Farmers’ Markets: Bringing Fresh, Healthy, Local Foods Within Reach

Fresh Exchange’s experience has been that “Setting the match amount for your program requires balancing a combination of three factors; how much funding you’ll have, how many customers will want to participate throughout the season, and what’s a useful yet reasonable match range you’re comfortable with. Setting a minimum funding threshold is a safe place to start and you can adjust as needed throughout the season either by increasing use with more outreach or building funding by targeting donors.

What’s involved?
SNAP-based incentive programs are often planned and operated by a farmers’ market in partnership with a community non-profit, volunteer group or committee created by the market board.

The key steps in setting up incentive programs with these partners are to:

  • Establish market and community support for the incentive program
  • Recruit volunteers or hire staff
  • Brand the program
  • Secure funding
  • Get the word out
  • Create systems to manage incentives and vendor payments
  • Create a system to evaluate the impact of the program
Market and Community Support
Setting goals
All partners working on a SNAP incentive project should determine the goals of the program and gather support for them. A board meeting or a meeting between different organizations that want to work on the incentive is a good space to determine these goals and ask for formal endorsement of the program. The goals should align with the market’s mission, as well as the mission of any partner organizations.
Identifying a champion to spearhead the incentive
The most successful SNAP incentive projects have at least one “champion” who is committed to ensuring the success of the project. Your market may consider hiring or designating a current volunteer as a SNAP coordinator. Markets that have invested in a SNAP coordinator have seen increased sales and decreased frustration because they have a dedicated employee who not only understands the complexities of the program, but is also professionally invested in its success.

Regardless of whether your market can afford a paid SNAP coordinator, any "champion’s" efforts must be supported on a day-to-day basis by the work of market volunteers and community partners. Your market’s existing board, staff and volunteers most likely will need additional capacity to support the champion in planning and operating an incentive program. In this case, you should recruit volunteers with the skills needed to create a successful program. You may even need to recruit a volunteer “champion.”

Recruiting Volunteers
Why be professional about volunteer recruitment?
Approach the volunteer recruiting process as if you were hiring a paid position. The more specific and realistic you can be about the desired skills, qualities and abilities needed in your volunteers, the more success you will have in attracting the right people who will stick with your project for years to come. Though guided by a representative of the farmers' market, volunteers will plan, implement, fund raise and be the public face of the program. When creating your group, look for a variety of skill sets including research, implementation, communications, writing, fund raising and project management experience.
Writing the volunteer job description
Write a job description that explicitly states the duties and projects for which volunteers will be responsible. If necessary, create a few job descriptions dividing duties and responsibilities between a team of people. These may include branding the program, fundraising, developing outreach materials and evaluating the program.
Publicizing the volunteer positions
Publicize your volunteer search widely. Ask other non-profits where they recruit local volunteers from and if they can share your volunteer job application with their networks. Some good volunteer sources may be

Taking applications
Plan an efficient and fair volunteer application process before you start receiving volunteer applications. One possibility is to require a cover letter and resume for the volunteer position and to interview qualified applicants. Remember, volunteers, like all other people, have strengths and weaknesses and will be qualified to help with certain tasks, but not others.

To ensure fairness in interviews, ask the same questions of each candidate and develop an evaluation rubric on which to rate each candidate. It should address the most important qualities you are seeking.

Here are some sample interview questions:

  • Can you commit to the January - October timeline?
  • Tell us about yourself and why you want to be involved in the program.
  • What do you anticipate your strengths and weaknesses will be in carrying out the duties outlined in the job description?
  • Can you meet with us every other Friday? (Whenever works best for all team members)
  • What would be your approach to fundraising from local businesses?
Forming the core volunteer group
'Hire' the successful candidates and store the contact information of unsuccessful candidates for future volunteer opportunities. Decide on a regular meeting schedule and work together to create a timeline and delegated responsibilities for the program from start to finish.
Ongoing assessment and expansion
As the process continues and the market launch becomes closer, assess current volunteer commitment and availability. As soon as the market begins, the planning process should shift to improving the process and securing funding for the next year. A volunteer’s work is never done!
(Adapted from the Fresh Exchange Toolkit)
Building Partnerships
Farmers' markets partner with a diversity of groups on SNAP-based incentive programs. In some cases, these other groups actually take on almost all of the planning work. In others, they simply support the work of market volunteers or staff.

Your community market is likely already working with some partners to build community and reach new customers. However, an incentive program is a good opportunity to seek new partnerships. Not all partners need to have a similar mission to the market although it is important to articulate what the different goals of the market and its partners are.

Types of partnerships

Community partners can help with nearly every aspect of an incentive program. Here are several ways they are supporting incentives at markets across Oregon and the country:

  • Funding a portion of the EBT machine fees or incentive program
  • Creating, translating, printing, paying for or distributing promotional materials
  • Promoting the market to SNAP and WIC clientele
  • Purchasing SNAP incentives for food bank clients to use
  • Hosting a market representative at their site to introduce clients to the program and explaining how it works
  • Collaborating to organize special community events
  • Re-routing public transportation to the market
  • Hosting cooking demonstrations at the market
  • Hosting a nutrition education table at the market
  • Screening market customers for SNAP eligibility at the market
  • Advocating on behalf of the market

(Adapted from SNAP/EBT at your Farmers’ Market: - Project for Public Spaces)

Types of partners
Branding the Program
Why develop a brand?
A visual brand is a valuable tool to secure possible funders and to spread the word about the program without having to always refer to it as the “SNAP-based incentive program.” You will still have to explain what the program is each time you introduce it, but your branding will help legitimize and support your efforts. Use it on tokens, banners, signage, sponsorship requests, donation materials and more.
How to develop the brand
The branding of your program is powerful. Great thought should go into the program name and logo, and what people might associate them both with. Take into account:

  • How best to communicate the benefits of the incentive to SNAP participants
  • The need to reduce stigma that could be associated with the program
  • The names and logos of other local initiatives
  • The need to incorporate the brand into different materials and media

Some programs incorporate Oregon Trail, the name of Oregon’s SNAP program, into their branding although few incorporate the SNAP name. None use the obsolete Food Stamps name.

The creativity of building the brand is a lot of fun too. Hold a brainstorming session with other volunteers, partners and the most creative people you can get ahold of. Ask your volunteers and supporters of the market if anyone with graphic design experience can donate their time to create the logo. If none of your existing supporters can help with this, reach out to professional designers, graphic design programs at nearby colleges, and the CreativeCares community to request pro-bono or reduced-priced design assistance. Guidelines for using the SNAP logo are available here.

(Adapted from the Fresh Exchange Toolkit)

Existing Incentive Brands

6 Fres Exchange
6 Link Up

6 Market Umbrella

6 TMF SNAP

6 Market Match
Fundraising
Fundraising may be a challenge, but is also a great opportunity to strengthen relationships with local businesses, non-profits, vendors and community members. Incentives are funded through a variety of strategies as illustrated below. Regardless of the strategy, fundraising has the most success when there is a dedicated fundraising coordinator or committee that takes the lead on any funding projects and recruits others to support them as necessary.
Several successful funding strategies from Oregon markets
  • Fundraising Events: Between 2011 and 2013, Ten Rivers Food Web helped organize fundraising dinners at Linn-Benton Community College featuring popular local chefs to fund incentive programs in Albany, Sweet Home and Brownsville. One dinner raised over $5000.
  • Product Sales: The Newport and River People farmers’ markets fund their incentives with an on-site market booth that sells freshly made lemonade. With thoughtful presentation, attractive marketing, talented volunteers, and tourist shoppers, Newport lemonade sales raised over $4,200 throughout the 2012 market season.
  • Sponsorships: Fresh Exchange created a description of benefits that businesses
    Portland Farmers Market recognizes sponsors online and at markets

    Portland Farmers Market recognizes sponsors online and at markets

    would receive, such as online recognition, in exchange for sponsoring the incentive program. It is now sponsored by several successful local businesses.

  • Grants: In 2012, Ten Rivers Food Web applied for and received a $2500 grant that provided materials and initial funding for SNAP-based incentive programs in Lincoln City and Toledo.
Why others should want to fund an incentive program
Markets have many positive social, economic and environmental impacts that put them in a great position to request donations, sponsorships and grant funding for incentive programs and other operations.

Farmers’ Markets:

  • Help cities and towns enhance downtown areas
  • Stem the loss of farmland
  • Improve low-income access to healthy food
  • Provide a venue for entertainment
  • Create a space for local organizations to connect with the community
  • Attract many shoppers and vendors who local businesses want to advertise to

In addition to these benefits, SNAP-based incentive programs:

  • Stretch SNAP participants’ buying power
  • Increase fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP participants
  • Bring new customers to the market area, increasing business for all types of market vendors as well as surrounding businesses
  • Reduce health care costs by promoting high quality diets
Fundraising Tips
  • Effective funding requires advanced planning and smart goal-setting. Many funding strategies require a considerable investment of time and resources, and fundraising rarely raises as much as expected.
  • However, any projects that increase your market’s visibility and strengthen support can pay long-term dividends to the market and the community.
  • Remember to document and evaluate any funding projects so that they can be replicated and improved in following years.
  • Also, don’t forget to recognize donors both publicly and privately for their support. Sending personal thank you letters can go a long way in ensuring that people donate year after year.
Crafting a budget
It is important to regularly estimate the actual cost of your SNAP-based incentive program and to confirm the level of support market stakeholders are committed to providing. If your market already accepts SNAP, you may be able to use transaction data from past seasons to project how many SNAP customers to expect, and then multiply that by the value of your incentive ($5 for example). If not, you can estimate based on the number of SNAP participants in your zip code.

In addition to estimating the amount of funding needed to provide SNAP customer with incentives, remember to include other costs such as printing outreach materials and advertising, and the usual costs of accepting SNAP: the EBT machine’s monthly wireless network service, transaction fees, tokens and more.
However, don’t fret if your initial budget seems unreachable. Many incentive programs successfully start with seed funding that is not enough to provide incentives to all SNAP customers throughout the market season. Running out of funding partially through your first season can actually be a good way to evaluate whether the incentive program has turned SNAP patrons into repeat customers. If SNAP usage increases with the launch of the incentive and does not significantly decline after your incentive program ends, then the program made a difference in the lives of shoppers and vendors.

Whether or not your program is able to raise enough funds to provide incentives throughout the market season, it remains critical to plan for subsequent years. There is high turn-over amongst SNAP participants – half receive benefits for fewer than 10 months. Therefore, there are constantly new people who are participating in SNAP and therefore new people who must continuously be told about and offered the incentives.

"An incentive program should be a tool, not a crutch, for increasing SNAP benefit redemption by making program participants more aware and more comfortable shopping at your farmers’ market." -Project for Public Spaces

Do not rely on private grants
Your market is likely within an area covered by a community foundation or a trust dedicated to improving the region. In addition, private foundations from all over the world grant funds for specific project areas, such as child nutrition and environmental protection. However, grant making organizations generally prefer not to support operating expenses—the everyday costs of offering an incentive–and instead fund projects that can continue even without grant funding. It is best to think of grants as "seed" funding that helps launch the incentive in the first year (i.e. funding tokens, signage and other necessary investments) and other strategies as the "sun and water" that will keep the program growing.

With that warning, here are some tips for securing grant funding:
Finding Grants

Finding grants that match the incentive program’s geographical area and focus can be daunting, but searchable databases such as Big Online America, the Foundation Center and Chronicle of Philanthropy make the task easier. Most of these databases are available by subscription only, but many public and university libraries have subscriptions.

Several other resources for finding grants include:

  • Talking with other market managers who offer SNAP incentives
  • Talking with a grant writer from a local organization or institution
  • Skimming lists of sponsors or funders of other local projects
  • Skimming lists of funders of incentive projects across the country
  • Asking a reference librarian to point you to directories for Oregon and/or to more specialized directories for local food promotion, health and other relevant fields.
  • The websites of fdncenter.org, grantstation.org, and givingforum.org
  • Doing Google searches

Narrow down any grants to those most applicable to SNAP-based incentives:

  • Check the fields in which grants are offered.
  • Check the purpose of grants offered. You may want grants for ongoing support, but some foundations emphasize start-up, or "seed" money.
  • Check the size of grants offered. If the minimum award is too high, $25,000 for example, then the foundation is likely not a good match.
  • Check the locations where grants are offered. Are you sure the foundation covers your geographic area?
  • Are they currently accepting applications? Some grantors only consider applicants who they have invited to apply. Others may offer grants one year, but not another.
Writing Grants
The following are only a handful of best practices adapted from the Community Tool Box. Visit http://ctb.ku.edu/en/tablecontents/chapter_1042.aspx for more advice.
Follow the guidelines
Each foundation and grantor has slightly different guidelines. Some will ask for a short one- or two-page letter describing your proposal, and nothing else to begin with. Others prefer to get the whole application up front. Some first want to know your credentials; others are primarily interested in your ideas. Some want detailed budgets; for others, money talk comes later.

Follow these guidelines closely. If the foundation asks for an initial 2-page letter, don't send 4.

Form a working group
Most of the time, you'll want to gather the input of others in planning your grant application. Even if they aren't experts, others may have specialized knowledge which one person alone will rarely have.

This will usually be a short-term group; it needn't meet more than a few times. The group might not do the actual writing – "writing by committee" is not usually preferred. But the group's original input will be important; group members can divide up the information-gathering, legwork, and possibly drafting; and the group comments on drafts can be valuable too.

Get expert advice
When you do have a proposal drafted, consider showing it to an expert to review it and provide advice. An "expert" could be another market operating an incentive program, or someone particularly knowledgeable about how foundations work.
Use a Successful Model
If you have a list of grants previously made by your prospective grantor, you can call up one of the awardees, and politely ask to see a proposal copy.
Budgeting, Implementing and Reporting Grants
Those new to grant writing often make the mistake of dramatically underestimating the actual costs in time and financial resources that a specific project will require. Take care not to personally shoulder significant costs that may be grant-funded such as travel costs and printing.

Not only is there work involved in preparing and submitting a proposal, but the work promised must also be done on time and with the funds provided, and then reports must be submitted to the funding organization or agency by the deadline given.

A Note on Public Grants
Many federal, state, and local agencies also maintain grant programs, offering a competitive process to fund organizations that are working in communities. To date, few to none have funded SNAP incentive programs, but this may change in upcoming years. Visit a local library for assistance finding Requests for Proposals (RFPs) or Requests for Applications (RFAs) produced by various agencies. The, USDA Farmers’ Market Promotional Program, USDA Specialty Crops Program, Oregon Department of Agriculture, and Oregon Department of Human Services are among the public agencies that may offer grant funding for incentive programs in the future.

Local community and Economic development councils and associations are also public funding sources that are more likely to fund SNAP incentive programs.

How to accept grants and charitable giving
Fiscal Sponsorship
Markets can make a strong case for supporting an incentive program, yet most face a significant barrier to such funding—they are not registered as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. Some community foundations and local businesses may provide a grant to your program regardless of non-profit status; however, your market will not be able to accept tax-deductible donations.

Yet farmers’ markets do not have to forego this funding. If you are not already part of a 501 (c)(3), ask a 501 (c)(3) organization in your area with a complementary mission if they are willing to be a fiscal sponsor for the SNAP-based incentive program. This will allow individuals and businesses to make tax-deductible donations to the incentive program.

501 (c)(3) Status for Farmers’ Markets
Your market can technically apply to the IRS for non-profit 501(c)(3) status, even if the market was not incorporated as such an organization. It is time-consuming, costly and not recommended. This may be why very few markets in Oregon have pursued this route.

However, if your organization provides a variety of programs in addition to the market, then it may be worth the trouble to ensure maximum private support. It is recommended that those seeking to apply consult with markets that are part of 501 (c)(3) organizations, such as the Brownsville and Lents markets, and request copies of their bylaws and the forms they submitted.

Friends of the Market 501(c)(3) Organizations
Those involved with a market can also form a separate 501(c)(3) organization for the benefit of the market. The benefit of this approach is that the new organization has a singular focus—the enhancement of the market. The downside is that the IRS requires that the board of this "Friends" organization operate separately from the board of the market. Therefore, this approach is only possible if your market already has an adequately large board and volunteer base. If you are interested in this approach, contact or research the Friends of Salem Saturday Market and Portland’s Farmers Market Fund. The Farmers Market Federation of New York also has a helpful how-to guide here. (Adapted from Washington Farmers’ Market Association)
Sponsorships
If there are large businesses with a presence in your community, then seeking corporate sponsorships may be the quickest way to meet your fundraising goal. For example, many Portland-area incentive programs are funded primarily by New Seasons Market. However, small locally owned businesses can provide funding as well, may provide better publicity than a corporate sponsorship, and may also align more closely with the market’s mission.

In either case, the key to success is to search for ways that donations (cash or in-kind) can meet not only the market and the incentive program’s goals but also the business objectives of the contributing company. For example, a company might happily contribute $500 if its logo is prominently displayed on a banner at the market.

The most successful incentive programs have a fundraising coordinator or committee that is responsible for identifying, soliciting, and maintaining relationships with sponsors, and that is supported by the board.
Identifying Fundable Projects

The first step in attracting these funds is identifying what exactly you are seeking sponsorship of. Some markets have found that large businesses are more likely to sponsor a single event, a fall harvest festival for example, than a program of the market such as the incentive. This may be because such events receive greater media attention and draw larger crowds than ordinary market days. If you find yourself being turned down by businesses when you ask for sponsorship of the incentive program, consider planning a fundraiser event instead that a business could sponsor.
Identifying Potential Sponsors
After determining what to seek sponsorship for, brainstorm and create a list of what businesses and organizations to approach. In some cases the market board may need to create a sponsor policy clarifying what types of businesses it will and will not accept sponsorships from.

One market that has secured sponsorship for its incentive program suggests that the best sponsors are those with a stake in the market and incentive program such as local businesses, neighborhood associations, market vendors, businesses neighboring the market, and even churches. Also consider pursuing any connections that market vendors or volunteers may have to potential sponsors; these could be low-hanging fruit.

The Sponsorship Packet
Before actually approaching potential sponsors, the fundraising coordinator or committee needs to create a sponsorship packet, approved by the market board, that includes one-page sponsorship request letter, a one-page description of your incentive program and a description of sponsorship benefits.

You can access a model request letter in the Fresh Exchange Toolkit. The key elements of the request are:

  • A brief description of the incentive program
  • How the program will benefit low-income people
  • Your funding goal and what part of the program the business would be funding
  • How a business would benefit from sponsoring the incentive program. Market facts, such as an estimate of the number of shoppers, can illustrate that the business would do well by advertising to the market shoppers and vendors
  • Whether donations are tax-deductible

A description of sponsorship benefits should detail the different amounts a business can contribute and what benefits it would receive for each amount. Benefits can include "business category exclusivity", which means that there will be only one sponsoring business in a certain category—such as a bank—during a single season. Larger businesses also value "first right of refusal", the right to be first in line to sponsor the market again next year at the same sponsorship level. A sample description of sponsorship benefits can be found here.

Making the Ask

Once the packet is ready, the fundraising coordinator or committee should send or drop off the packet at target businesses. Follow this up with a phone call to schedule an appointment with a decision-maker from the company.
At the meeting, describe the incentive program again and how the business’ support would impact the community. Try to illustrate how the company may be able to meet its business goals by sponsoring the market.

Follow the meeting up with an invoice and a thank you letter if the business agreed to sponsor the program, or a letter thanking the business for their consideration if they have not yet decided to sponsor the program.

Creative Sponsorships
There are many ways that businesses can sponsor incentive programs besides providing cash. These other types of sponsors should be recognized side-by-side with cash sponsors:

  • A local restaurant could donate a set percentage of profits from one evening to the incentive program.
  • An organization or business could provide free or discounted printing for market materials, or radio advertising.
  • A food pantry or food bank could purchase market tokens to distribute to their clients (as Food Share of Lincoln County has done)
  • You could apply for a sponsorship from a local credit union or bank using their simple online application.
Recognizing Sponsors
  • Send a thank you letter (preferably handwritten) to sponsors.
  • Document whenever the business is recognized as a sponsor either digitally or physically. Illustrating to a business how much visibility their sponsorship "bought" is important in bringing back as sponsors year after year.
Individual Donations
For general tips on soliciting donations, read Kim Klein’s article "The Ten Most Important Things You Can Know about Fundraising" from the Grassroots Fundraising Journal.

At least 80% of donations are from individuals. Markets already court many of these individuals to vendors’ tables. One proven way of raising funds is to solicit these same individuals for funds.

Traditional donation strategies
Most markets already have a network of hundreds or even thousands of people it communicates with. These are the people shopping at the market, visiting its website, reading its newsletter or following it on social media.

Several ways in which incentive programs seek funding from these market networks are by:

  • ReDonation Canquesting donations at the market, for example by asking debit customers if they want to add a $2 donation to their transaction or by placing donation cans at vendors' tables.
  • Making direct phone call requests to people with a history of supporting the market or other community projects.
  • Online Donation ButtonAppealing for donations on their website, Facebook page or newsletter and by adding a donation button to their website. PayPal is one of the least expensive ways of doing this.
  • Asking board members to contribute monetary or in-kind donations
Alternative donation strategies
Some innovative markets have membership or reward programs that reward people for supporting the market or incentive program. Lents International Farmers Market organized an Indie GoGo crowd funding campaign for their incentive program and Mill City Farmers’ Market offers several levels of support that people can choose from to become "friends of the market." Benefits may include:

  • Free market totes, produce or toursDonor Benefits
  • Advance notice of discounts and special events;
  • Privileges at the market such as discounts or guaranteed tables for members who are also vendors;
  • Discounted tickets to special events such as fundraising dinners; and
  • A sense of ownership in the community in the farmers’ market.
Always thank donors
It is a good practice to recognize major donors on websites and newsletters, but it is equally important to thank these donors individually. Most fundraising experts suggest writing handwritten letters or notes. These stand out more than typewritten ones and will be fondly remembered.
Fundraisers
For some markets, the majority of donations come from people who buy tickets for fundraising meals, auctions and other events.

Many markets work with volunteers or with a Friends of the Market organization to plan at least one fundraising event each year either on-site at the market, or off-site, at a farm or restaurant for example. These events are opportunities to thank the market community, publicize the market, and raise financial support. Fundraisers also give market vendors an opportunity to support the incentive by contributing in-kind food donations. Different types of events include:

    • Harvest dinners by local chefs
    • Wine tastings at the market
    • Flower or art sales
    • Silent or live auctions
    • Film screenings
  • On-farm dinners
  • Pancake breakfasts
  • Farm or garden tours
  • Cooking classes
  • Bingo, and many more
Cynthia Kappel of Midway Farms raffling off tickets at a dinner fundraiser for the Albany Farmers’ Market’s That’s My Farmer SNAP incentive.

Cynthia Kapple of Midway Farms raffling off tickets at a dinner fundraiser for the Albany Farmers’ Market’s That’s My Farmer SNAP incentive.

Fundraiser planning tips
Market Umbrella recommends that seasonal markets hold their main fundraisers in the middle of the off-season to remind people about the upcoming market season, and year-round market hold theirs during your most bountiful time of the year.
Those who have planned special events know they can consume a lot of time, energy and resources. The Albany Farmers’ Market attempts to overcome this by partnering with local chefs who volunteer their time to prepare all the food for a fundraiser dinner. A fundraising coordinator or committee must still organize and set up the rest of the event with community volunteers, but identifying similar "champions" of the market or incentive program who can contribute their expertise to an event will make the planning much easier.

There many good online guides for planning fundraisers, such as this one from Wild Apricot. Contact OFMA if you know of one tailored more towards farmers’ market fundraisers.

Product Sales
Selling food, drink or branded items, such as bags or aprons at the market can be less work than organizing an event, but is rarely a reliable funding stream. Most experts recommend viewing these sales as part of a marketing strategy – a way to increase the market’s visibility in the community.

However, some markets have had success selling easily prepared value-added foods or drinks that are not available from existing vendors in order to fund incentives. Examples of these products include coffee, lemonade, cider or baked goods.

One successful fundraising strategy has been 'The Lemonade Project'
A dedicated, but unpaid volunteer recruits youths and other volunteers to sell delicious hand-squeezed lemonade at the Newport Farmers’ Market. Shoppers appreciate the cold drink during the hot summers, and the fact that the profits fund the market’s SNAP incentive. In 2012, The Lemonade Project raised over $4,000 after accounting for expenses. This was in large part due to great volunteer training, community support, high market turnout and thoughtful design of the lemonade booth and product. The Lemonade Project was the design of Katie McNeil who hopes the idea will catch on at other farmers’ markets.

Shoppers enjoy lemonade at the Newport Farmers' Market

Shoppers enjoy lemonade at the Newport Farmers' Market

This social enterprise model can be replicated at other markets, with someone to spearhead the project, a source for reliable volunteers and start-up funding. One way that several markets have started with this is by partnering with a local business that is willing to donate food, drinks or equipment for these charitable sales. Another possible strategy is to apply for grant funding to cover the start-up costs.

Read Market Umbrella’s beverage sales guide for an example of this and for more tips on getting started.

Another option is to set up a community table that allows small producers or gardeners to sell produce without the usual full-time vendor costs. Several gardeners at the River People Farmers Market donate their proceeds to the market's SNAP match program.

Outreach Strategies
Why Outreach Is Key
The average SNAP participant receives benefits for only 9 months. This means there are constantly new participants who do not know about the incentive program and who may not know that they can spend SNAP benefits at the market. In fact, a main reason many SNAP participants don’t shop at their local farmers’ market is because they don’t think it accepts SNAP benefits, even when it does.

SNAP incentives also benefit the market and SNAP participants most when they encourage as many people as possible to visit the market. Clearly, outreach is key and must be maintained.

Messaging
Different outreach strategies will likely be effective for your SNAP and non-SNAP customer bases.

Here are several principles that are crucial to all SNAP outreach efforts:

  • SNAP participants may be different than non-SNAP customers. They may live, work and play in different places, and speak different languages.
  • When possible, provide information in languages other than English commonly spoken in the community.
  • Incorporate and promote the incentive program brand. It is difficult for word about the program to spread if everyone refers to it by a different name.
  • Alert people that incentives are offered provided that funds are available. Promising to always have incentives when funds are not sufficient will only disappoint people and turn them away from the market.
  • Keep everything clear, simple and concise.
Encouraging Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is often cited as the most effective outreach method. Consider asking SNAP customers to spread the word and to provide outreach advice. They may know best how to reach out to new customers, know where to publicize the program, and what messages to communicate.

A complementary strategy is to encourage "front line service providers", such as food bank volunteers or SNAP caseworkers to talk to their clients about SNAP incentive. The most efficient way of doing this is to meet with their supervisor or to present to them about the program at their staff meetings or another similar gathering.

For example, Fresh Exchange’s volunteers visited DHS, local businesses, health care facilities, churches, neighborhood association meetings and other venues to raise awareness about the program.

Designing Outreach Materials
One effective outreach strategy is to develop informational materials about the incentives and distribute them to SNAP participants.

When designing these materials:

  • Oregon Trail Card ImageInclude this image of the Oregon Trail Card on all printed materials and refer to SNAP as "SNAP/Food Stamps", "SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps)", or "SNAP/Oregon Trail." Many people refer to SNAP as Oregon Trail or Food Stamps.
  • Incorporate the incentive program’s branding
  • Keep things clear, simple and concise. Materials should not be too busy so that they distract and interfere with the message you want to convey.
  • When possible, translate materials into languages other than English commonly spoken in your community.
  • Acknowledge the incentive program’s sponsors on materials.
  • Consider developing a flyer or poster that can be posted on walls, and a brochure, rack card or post card that SNAP participants can take home.
  • Replicate the best elements of other fliers, such as those below.
Distributing Materials
Distribute digital and physical copies of these outreach materials to community partners, social service organizations and highly visible sites.

Consider:

  • Are there any stores or gathering sites that many low-income people in your community visit? Places as mundane as hairdressers or bus stations may be very effective outreach sites
  • What social service organizations or agencies frequently work with low-income people? How can they help distribute information?

Ask other organizations to post flyers, hand out materials to their clients, and publicize the program on their website, calendar or Facebook page. To efficiently reach many SNAP participants, focus on dropping off handouts with a regional food bank to put in all their food boxes, and distributing materials to local SNAP and WIC offices, senior centers, clinics, and churches.

At the Market
Educating your customers on how they can use their SNAP benefits and receive the incentives at your market will increase the program’s success and acceptance. It may seem obvious, but people cannot spread the word about the incentive if they do not know what it is!

  • Make sure that the market staff and/or volunteers are visible, accessible and well trained about how the program works. When possible, they should ask each SNAP customer if they know about the incentive program, and prepare a brief "elevator pitch" for new customers.
  • Banners and signage at the market should also clearly indicate that Oregon Trail/SNAP is accepted and that incentives are offered.
  • Many customers prefer when all vendors display signs indicating whether they accept SNAP.
  • Markets have found the most success in having a designated information table where customers can find information about SNAP and the incentive program and also swipe their Oregon Trail cards in exchange for tokens. This is a good place to display free brochures from DHS or Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon about SNAP, healthy recipes, and upcoming community events related to food.

Corvallis TMF SNAP SignTake every opportunity to remind people that the market accepts SNAP benefits and offers incentives.

Special Events at the Market
Events such as cooking demonstrations and cultural celebrations at the market can

Some markets reward new customers for attending an educational market tour

Some markets reward new customers for attending an educational market tour

attract new SNAP customers and media attention. These events are also great opportunities to educate customers about the benefits of fresh, healthy foods; how to store and cook market products; and how SNAP is redeemed at the market. Some market operators use these events as an opportunity to invite local organizations into the market to provide special services. For example, Clatsop Public Health's WIC staff holds "Quick WIC" at the River People Farmers' Market once a month, bringing WIC customers to the market. Other invite DHS to screen customers on their eligibility to participate in SNAP. Consider inviting public officials and the press to such events too.

Media
In addition to reaching out to SNAP participants at the market and through outreach materials, look into what media low-income people in your community read and listen to.

  • Are there church bulletins or neighborhood newsletters that would send out an announcement about the incentives?
  • What are the popular listservs or school newsletters?
  • Can your utility company include announcements at the bottom of their bills?
  • Are particular newspapers or radio stations popular?

Consider writing a press release about the start of the incentive program at the market, and submit it to local newspapers and radio stations at least a week and a half in advance. For tips for writing press releases, visit service.prweb.com/learning/article/how-to-write-a-successful-news-release/.

OFMA has created an adaptable template for press releases about SNAP-based incentives available here: http://www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Press-Release-Template.doc

Special Events Off-site
One way to actively reach out to new customers (and build new community partnerships) is to promote your SNAP-based incentive by participating at local health fairs, school events, and community festivals. However, be prepared for low attendance. The most valuable part of these is sometimes networking with other community organizations and distributing your materials to them.

(Adapted from SNAP/EBT at your Farmers’ Market)

Operating the Program
Determining Incentive Denominations
Like SNAP benefits, SNAP incentives are meant to be spent only on food at the market, and so market vendors do not give change for incentives. This means your program should be careful in determining what denomination incentives will come in. Most markets use $1 or $2 incentive tokens so shoppers can purchase most items without needing change (some also use paper coupons or add an incentive to SNAP shoppers’ receipts)
Designing and Ordering Incentives
Once you have a brand and funding forExample of Incentive Tokens your SNAP incentive program, you must purchase incentives. These should be as distinct as possible from other tokens at your market and neighboring markets.

Like the SNAP tokens, incentives should have printed on them their value, the name of the market, text saying "Eligible Products Only" and "No Change Given", and the market website if possible. They should also have all relevant incentive program branding, such as the program’s name and logo. Ask a local print shop about designing and ordering them. Expect tokens to arrive no earlier than 6 weeks after ordering them.

Communicating to Vendors
Markets must inform vendors about which foods they can legally accept SNAP benefits for and require them to sign a SNAP agreement. Markets can simply add information to any existing written agreements with vendors, stating that the new incentives are also only redeemable for SNAP-eligible foods and that vendors should treat incentives exactly like the SNAP tokens. A template agreement is available here and a sample info sheet for vendors is available here.
Tracking and Reporting Incentives
If your market partners with a fiscal sponsor or other organization on the incentive program, the top priority will be to submit counts of SNAP incentives disbursed and requests to be reimbursed from the funds the sponsor holds for the incentive program.

Most organizations and markets recommend tracking how many shoppers received an incentive, the value of the incentive, and how many dollars that person withdrew in SNAP benefits. Some organizations also record the last 4 digits of shoppers’ Oregon Trail Card numbers in order to track how many times SNAP shoppers return to the market. A sample tracking form is available here.

As the season progresses, comparing the amount of money given out in incentives with the amount of available funds will be critical. The market may want to alter the program or stop offering incentives partially through the season depending on funding.

Good record-keeping can also highlight possible improvements for the following year. The data can also be used to create progress or end-of-season reports to show sponsors and donors how their support has helped the community, and why they should continue to support the program.

Setting Up at the Market
Create a checklist of materials needed at the market such as the EBT machine, incentives, tracking sheets, donation jar, informational flyers and signage.

Take ample time before the first market begins to train all volunteers and staff about how to provide incentives, track them, accept donations and how to give a quick explanation of the program. One helpful step is to prepare a 30 second elevator speech to give to non-SNAP market goers, explaining the program and asking for a donation.

Fresh Exchange suggests placing informational materials as well as produce at the EBT table depicting how much food the incentive pays for.

Reimbursing Vendors
When vendors submit all the tokens and incentives they have received, market staff and/or volunteers must collect, sort and count them by category (i.e. SNAP, debit, incentive). Although this is time consuming, market staff, vendors and volunteers are already familiar with working with tokens so the additional work and volunteer support should be manageable.

To reduce the amount of paperwork for the market and for vendors, the market can send reimbursement checks to vendors that combine incentive payments with other ones the market owes them.

(Partially adapted from the Fresh Exchange Toolkit)

Evaluation
Tracking the number of shoppers receiving incentives, the value of SNAP benefits spent at the market, and the last 4 digits of Trail Card numbers can provide some extraordinarily valuable information. Administering a survey to everyone who comes to the EBT machine will provide a lot more.

Feel free to adapt this template survey that OFMA developed for your use.
Is the incentive growing the local economy?

Did the value of SNAP benefits spent at the market increase since the launch of the incentive program? If so, then your incentive program just grew the local economy. Publicize to the public and to donors how much SNAP spending increased.
Is the incentive increasing healthy food access?
How much did the number of individual SNAP shoppers increase? Spread the word. The incentive is introducing new low-income people to a healthy food environment.
Is the incentive changing shopping behavior?
With some careful electronic tracking in Excel, and some modest calculations you can calculate how many trips most SNAP customers are taking to the market. If it’s high, then great job! The incentive has converted some people to loyal customers of healthy food. If not, consider organizing a free educational event for SNAP shoppers or surveying customers about what makes them choose whether to return.
Spread the word
Don’t assume that anyone knows about the benefits the market and incentive program provide. Document these impacts and spread the word about them through fact-sheets, newsletters, social media, press releases, presentations, donation and sponsorship requests, thank you letters and in promotional materials.

If you’re at the point where you’re publicizing the impacts of your community’s incentive program, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. Incentives are a challenge to plan and provide, but their impact on community challenges far outweigh the costs. Now, measure those impacts, identify where the program can improve, and get back to the work of making farmers’ markets tools of positive social, environmental and economic change.