Your Path to Nonprofit Marketing Success — The Food Truck Five

Guest blogger Joe Waters writes on cause marketing and social media at, and is the co-author of Cause Marketing For Dummies

I’m all about the food truck right now. We have a number of food trucks here in Boston, and I just finished watching The Great Food Truck Race on The Food Network. I’m fascinated by the phenomenon and impressed by how food trucks market themselves via social media and other creative approaches.

Nonprofits can learn a lot from these mobile eateries that have a nose for where the business is and know how to keep fans coming back. I challenge you to try these relationship-building strategies to up your fundraising and marketing results:
1) Their product is distinctive and memorable. Food trucks are far more than just cokes, hot dogs and hamburgers. They specialize in delicious, unique foods and, depending on consumer demand, aren’t copycats that duplicate menus. Consider some of these names of Boston food trucks: Grilled Cheese Nation, Kickass Cupcakes, Bon Me Truck [Vietnamese], Clover Food Truck [vegetarian]. Food trucks set themselves apart from the competition and excel within their category. Shouldn’t the same be true for you, regardless of what your product, service or cause is?

2) They are quick adapters. Many food trucks pride themselves on local ingredients, and will change their menus to meet the ebb and flow of the seasons. If something isn’t selling, they switch it for something else. If what they usually use isn’t in season, they switch to something else. If they run out of the something, they improvise. You saw this firsthand if you watched the Great Food Truck Race and saw the curveballs host Tyler Florence threw contestants. Food trucks know how to turn on a dime! Can you say the same about your organization?

3) They’re people people. Food trucks don’t wait around for people to come to them. They go where the people are, where the hunger and need is greatest, be it a college campus or outside a convention center. As someone who works with nonprofits, I see too many organizations that operate like ivy towers, cutting themselves off from the people they can help and the people that can help them. Mark Horvath of Invisible People tweets all the time about groups that say they want to help the homeless but then set themselves apart, or create barriers that make delivering that help ineffective or impossible. Food trucks are for and by the people. They exist to serve others. So should you.

4) They have a cult-like following. Notice I didn’t say that they were good with reaching out via social media, which they are. Food trucks are focused not on what these tools do but on what they accomplish: build a rabid following that looks forward to their tweets and postings, and doggedly follows them. Food trucks thrive because they turn customers into fans and fans into ambassadors. Most importantly, they make it easy to love them. Are you building a community around your program, service or cause? Or are you turning hungry supporters donors away?

5) They understand what’s truly important. Food trucks succeed or fail for one reason only: their food. It all starts with something that’s good, interesting and a heck of a lot better than your average fast food joint. What ever you do, focus on offering something that is superior, valuable and feeds the soul. Like the Green Muenster Melt from Boston’s Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese food truck,  you want to be the thing that people just can’t live without.

How do you rate your organization on the Food Truck Five? What’s getting in your way of accomplishing these strategies? Please share your story here.

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