Huffpost Impact
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joe Waters Headshot

What Nonprofits Can Learn From The Food Truck Craze

Posted: Updated:

I'm fascinated by the whole food truck phenomenon. 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 also in Los Angeles all week for the Blogworld Expo and am hoping to sample some of its great food trucks!

I'm impressed by how food trucks market themselves and are such big users of social media.

A lot of nonprofits, fundraisers and cause marketers 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.

Their product is distinctive. Food trucks are 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 nonprofits and the programs they run?

They adapt. 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 find an alternative. If they run out of the something, they improvise. The Great Food Truck Race demonstrated this with the curveballs host Tyler Florence threw contestants. Food trucks know how to turn on a dime! How often can that be said about nonprofits, which steer more like the Titanic than a food truck?

They're people persons. 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. It could be a college campus or outside a convention center. But too many nonprofits are ivy towers that cut 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.

They have a cult-like following. Notice I didn't say that they were good with social media or technology, 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. Can you say the same about your nonprofit?

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. Nonprofits need to focus on delivering a product that is superior, valuable and feeds the soul.

Just like the Green Muenster Melt that Boston's Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese sells, you want to be the thing that people just can't live without.

Photo by Bobby B. Brown, Flickr

Around the Web

The 25 Best Food Trucks - Eat Cheap 2010 -- New York Magazine

Vending Trucks,Ice Cream Trucks,Concession Trailer,Catering ...

Food truck debate rages in Buffalo

Food trucks pilot to continue into winter

Food truck owners voice concerns about new rules