Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)

Best Practices: Sponsor Retention

Last Modified: 07/19/2013

Keeping good sponsors in SFSP is just as, or sometimes more, important than locating and signing on new ones. A national SFSP study issued in April 2003 found that approximately eight percent of sponsoring organizations did not return to the SFSP the following summer. Reasons for this ranged from local personnel issues to sponsoring organizations having difficulty remaining financially viable over the course of the summer.  The following is a collection of strategies from several States who found success in retaining their SFSP sponsors through:

Review these ideas and adopt the strategies that seem reasonable to you and compatible with your program.  If you have a best practice strategy you would like to share please contact your State agency.

Training

Effective training is the foundation of a successful SFSP sponsor.  Making sure sponsors fully comprehend their responsibilities before they operate the program is critical to their success.  Several States have taken innovative approaches, and developed many tools which you may find helpful, here is just a few:

  • Training Themes. To keep sponsors engaged and interested is important in delivering effective training. The Arizona SFSP provides a series of themed training sessions across the State to get sponsors excited to begin their program outreach. In 2004, the theme was Hawaiian Luau, which helped get everyone thinking about summer. Themes can be carried through with decorations, refreshments, training games, and even attendee clothing and/or accessories.

  • Administrative Review Forms. To help prepare returning sponsors for the coming summer, the Pennsylvania SFSP provides them with the administrative review forms prior to their program’s operation. Providing these forms, along with a PowerPoint presentation explaining them, complements formal training and helps sponsors clearly understand what is expected of them. When reviews take place during the summer, sponsors are more likely to meet program requirements.

  • Online Training. In Colorado, the Department of Education offers its experienced sponsors training through an online training module. Sponsors have been very receptive to this alternative to classroom style training, as they no longer have to spend the money and extra time traveling to receive training.

Communication

Open communication between the State agency, sponsoring organizations and sites can lead to success in operating the SFSP. Here are a couple of ideas that may help to open your lines of communication:

  • Exit Interviews or Debriefing. When a sponsoring organization drops the SFSP, it is important for the State agency to understand why.  After a State understands the problem, it can develop strategies to correct the issue through enhanced training or the development of tools designed to prevent reoccurrence of the original setback.  Some State agencies are now employing the use of a survey form in an effort to extract better information from the exiting sponsor.

  • Meeting with Decision Makers. Communication can also take the form of program promotion.  In Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of USDA obtained the services of a former President from the School Nutrition Association to meet and discuss the merits of administering the SFSP to local school officials.  Information on basic program requirements was shared but the former President highlighted the number of un-served children in the area and the potential reimbursement amounts that could be a revenue source for the school district should they administer the SFSP. By meeting with decisionmakers, such as the School Superintendent or other high ranking officials within the school system, a careful and well-planned presentation of the facts concerning need and potential lost funding may lead to more school systems administering the SFSP.

Outreach

By providing outreach assistance and support, States can recruit new SFSP sponsors and help existing sponsors expand their programs. Here are a few innovative and successful outreach strategies:

  • Giving a “Call Out”. Many school districts have “call-out” phone systems, which leave automated messages at students’ homes to inform parents and guardians of various issues.  In Arizona, a school district sends “call-outs” to all of the households in their district to publicize the SFSP.

  • Publicity through other State agencies. The Texas SFSP coordinates with the State Medicaid agency to publicize the SFSP. Medicaid beneficiaries receive a SFSP stuffer in their June mailing called Fuel Up for Summer Fun! The stuffer, printed in both English and Spanish, provides basic information about the SFSP, a 1-800 SFSP hotline number and the Texas SFSP website.  Texas reports that the SFSP Medicaid stuffer generates about 95 percent of the calls that they receive through their SFSP hotline number.

  • Ready-to-use outreach materials for sponsors. In addition to training materials, Virginia SFSP has developed some ready-to-use outreach materials for sponsors to use.  For example, they provide sponsors with a brochure to help recruit new sites.  Similar to the USDA brochures, Virginia’s colorful recruitment brochures provide basic information on the SFSP as well as contact information for interested sponsors or sites.

Partnering

State agencies can initiate partnerships with a wide range of public and private partners. Anti-hunger advocacy organizations, food banks, after-school associations, Cooperative Extension, and other State and local organizations that care about the health and well-being of children can help support the maintenance and expansion of SFSP sponsors.  Below are a few examples of successful partnerships:

  • Anti-Hunger Advocates. In Oregon, the State agency works with the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force, which conducts outreach to promote the State’s 1-800 number that refers callers to local SFSP sites. The two also partnered to organize a video conference with Oregon’s Governor to promote both summer food and afterschool suppers and snacks.  

  • End Hunger Connecticut received a grant in the Summer of 2004 from the Hartford County Bar Association and Share Our Strength, which they then turned into $500 “Recreation Connection” mini-grants to five large SFSP sponsors. One sponsors used the money to purchase sports equipment and another raffled off gift cards from sporting good stores. The sponsors stated that the grants help increase participation at their sites.

    Cooperative Extension. Virginia, the Cooperative Extension staff offers nutrition education to children (and attending parents) at SFSP feeding sites and food safety trainings to sponsors’ food service staff.

  • Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association. As part of the Montana State agency’s partnership with the association, Cowboys visited SFSP sites to talk to children about the importance of good nutrition and physical fitness.  This partnership provided an additional resource for SFSP sponsors and helped attract children to their sites.

Technical Assistance

Providing technical assistance to new and existing SFSP sponsors offers additional support to help ensure their success in the program. Here are some examples:

  • Mentoring by Field Monitors. The Pennsylvania SFSP believes the best way to correct problems is to prevent them in the first year of operation; therefore, all new sponsors are assigned a mentor from the State agency’s monitoring staff. This mentor assists the new sponsor the first week of operation, checks paperwork and recordkeeping requirements, helps solve any concerns with site reviews, and helps the sponsor prepare for their administrative review. Mentors are also assigned for returning sponsors with new staff, and larger sponsors should specific problems arise. Staff also provides one-on-one assistance in preparing budgets with new sponsors.

  • Claim Assistance. The Oregon SFSP provides technical assistance to sponsors when their claim for reimbursement is submitted. The State agency reviews each claim to check if the sponsor is receiving expected reimbursement or costs. If the costs reported are not high enough to receive the meals times rate amount, State agency staff will call or visit the sponsor and provide technical assistance. Many sponsors, especially non-profits, do not account for all the money they spent when filing the claim. When sponsors lose money, States lose sponsors. This State agency has found that technical assistance as an integral element of the claims payment process can reduce those loses.

  • Assistance for Camp Sponsors. The Virginia SFSP has compiled a Guide for Camp Sponsors in the Virginia SFSP. The Guide is not intended to replace USDA’s Administrative Guidance for Sponsors, but is intended to supplement it. The Guide for Camp Sponsors highlights those areas of SFSP administration and operation that relate specifically to camps and further expounds on some policies where necessary.  Camp sponsors have found this to be very helpful.