When Sonic Drive In wanted to give back to the community, it didn’t rush into things. The company, which has 3,500 drive-in restaurants across the country, wanted to make sure any initiative had the support of its franchise partners. And it wanted to focus on education, unlike the health focus of one of its top competitors, McDonald’s.
Sonic ultimately decided it wanted to support teachers at the local level. To do that, it teamed with DonorsChoose.org, a Web-based nonprofit that enables teachers to submit requests for classroom supplies. Five years later, the partnership is still going strong.
“We took the right amount of time to research on the front end” to make sure it would be the right program with the right partner, Christi Woodworth, Sonic’s director of social media, said during a session on corporate-nonprofit partnerships at the Business4Better conference.
Sonic was the first corporate partner of DonorsChoose.org to use the site’s API (application programming interface) to create a separate micro-site, said Kirk Smiley, senior director of the nonprofit. The site, called Limeades for Learning, allows Sonic customers and others to vote for public school teacher projects they want Sonic to fund.
The partnership offered opportunities to both sides, Woodworth said. While Sonic tends to be located in rural and suburban areas, DonorsChoose.org had focused on supporting teachers in urban areas and wanted to expand.
Woodworth said Sonic’s franchise partners have the option of participating in Limeades for Learning. For those that do, the effect can be powerful — such as a 16-year-old employee trying to win votes for his teacher’s project.
During a Q&A after the session,one nonprofit leader described how her organization, which provides shoes to needy kids, teamed with a kidney dialysis company. Employees of the company were 100 percent engaged and within two months, had donated 13,000 pairs of shoes, she said.
Another nonprofit leader asked whether there had been any concerns for DonorsChoose.org in forming a partnership with a company — without meaning any disrespect to Sonic, she added — that doesn’t provide exactly the most healthy of food. “We didn’t find it brand diminishing,” Smiley said. “We’re not a site focused on health.” The site does, however, reject donations from gambling, alcohol or tobacco companies, he added.