Guest Blog by Michelle Hodnett
Project Dojo is a nonprofit community outreach program in Pueblo, Colorado, that works with at-risk children. Through the power of martial arts, Project Dojo seeks to inspire and motivate kids within a safe environment, while continuing to teach the traditions of martial arts.
However, you don’t have to be a nonprofit school to hold a great free event! Holding a free event to help youth in your community is a great way to rally your school around a worthy cause. Your students can work as volunteers at the event, or contribute to the planning. In this article, Project Dojo head Michelle Hodnett shares how she’s held successful free events and how you can get started on yours!
Why do a backpack giveaway in the first place?
Everyone loves free stuff! If you’re looking to advertise, boost morale, or want to connect with your community, a free backpack giveaway might be a perfect event. It seems easy: just give away stuff! But few people realize the work and planning it takes to pull off. The last thing you want is to be left with is an empty school and leftover bags. Here are 3 tips to help your event be successful.
Tip 1. Plan!
If you’re planning to do the event in the summer, planning starts in the spring. You should plan at least six weeks out. That may seem early, but trust me, it’ll save you from stress later. We start gathering items for an event at the end of July as early as February.
Tip 2. Use your community.
Do not hesitate to reach out for help. Asking local business owners, friends, families and students for ideas and suggestions. People will help you.
Perhaps one of your parents is a dental hygienist and can donate 50 toothbrushes, mini toothpaste tubes, and floss.
Perhaps one of your parents is a firefighter, they could come by and the kids play on the fire engine for the event. If you give your local fire station a call, most likely they will happy to come out and do events. Utilize your communities’ strengths to your advantage.
Kids from Project Dojo at a Camp Dojo event.
We reached out to a food truck to provide a free meal to the children at the event. They were happy to participate and serve the community. With each loaded backpack we issued a raffle ticket given with the backpack so the food truck could identify who to give out free food to and that went smoothly. They made money on the parents and the public, so it was a win-win situation for all.
We asked Ringside Barber shop to come out and give the kids free haircuts. They were very professional and excited to use their talents to help the kids. A few parents also tipped them at this event. They were able to make connection, find future clients, and collaborate with the community. (We did have to go a few different barbers until we found one willing to do our event.)
Tip 3. Know How to Market
This is free event. Don’t waste money on radio and television advertisements. A much more comfortable way is to start by posting a flyer within your own studio. Then move on to social media, such as Facebook, where your community can like and share. Contact other local business that are in your field or themed for this event. Reach out to local principals and elementary schools. For example, for our event, one of teachers from the local elementary also contributed by doing a rock art station. Kids had fun painting their own dojo rocks.
At a dojo backpack giveaway.
Project Dojo has been involved in several collaborations throughout the years. A few years ago, we collaborated with Hope Equals Help International, which is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They hold annual backpack loading parties, where they have 30 or more organizations donate school supplies and load over 1,000 backpacks. We used their format of types of supplies and loading techniques at our own event. These donation-based organizations lend a helping hand to students and families that may not be able to afford necessities, like school supplies, otherwise.
When doing an event, we always operate on the 3 P’s: People, Place, and Purpose, although not necessarily in that order. Purpose is the most pertinent of the three: after knowing your reason why, you’ll know exactly what to do and not to do… which should cut your planning time in half. Always know the dimensions of and weather expectations for your event place. Know your people. This includes who you will have helping you, including outside volunteers, and who you expect to attend. If you take care of the Three P’s, you’ll have a successful event.
These free events are also beneficial to your school. Executing successful events for your dojo is essential to future growth. My last piece of advice is to plan for the unexpected. At almost every event there is always something that doesn’t go to plan. So remember to be flexible, understanding, and above all remain calm. When your community sees how well you orchestrate an event it will translate into respect for you and your dojo. Still today the best way to advertise is word of mouth. Treat every person who comes to your event as if they are the most important person there.
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Michelle Hodnett is the co-founder of Project Dojo. She is a third-degree black belt with over 15 years experience as an instructor.
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