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 email@example.com any insights, experience or stories you would like to be incorporated into this guide.
What is a SNAP-Based Incentive?
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.
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:
- Are targeted through direct outreach and invited to attend the market
- May be introduced to farmers markets for the first time
- See an increase in their buying power at the market
- Are able to eat more fruits and vegetables
- Say that incentive programs are a primary reason why they decide to spend their benefits at a farmers’ market
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
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.
- 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.”
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
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.”
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?
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
- 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)
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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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
With that warning, here are some tips for securing grant funding:
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.
Follow the guidelines
Follow these guidelines closely. If the foundation asks for an initial 2-page letter, don't send 4.
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.
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.
Local community and Economic development councils and associations are also public funding sources that are more likely to fund SNAP incentive programs.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
Several ways in which incentive programs seek funding from these market networks are by:
- Requesting 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.
- Appealing 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
- Free market totes, produce or tours
- 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.
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
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.
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'
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.
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.
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.
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.
When designing these materials:
- Include 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
(Adapted from SNAP/EBT at your Farmers’ Market)
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.
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.
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.
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)
Feel free to adapt this template survey that OFMA developed for your use.
Is the incentive growing the local economy?
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.