coffee hour, all the time
August 30, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Creative ways to give away coffee?

I work at a local church that's pretty involved in the community (I don't work for the church - we run a separate program there), and will be spending a lot of time there in the fall. As a fundraising project, I was thinking of running "coffee hour" during coffeeshop hours -- mornings and afternoons during the week, on a donation basis, to anyone who stops by the church. Leaving aside the "can we do this" questions (it would have to be strictly donation, since we're not planning on getting licensed for food service) what are some things we would need to think about to do this?

I'm interested in both logistical and creative ideas -- it's more of a social experiment than anything else, since I don't expect it to bring in much cash (though it would be a fun way to raise visibility for the church -- they've been really nice in letting us use their space). The building is not on a main drag, but it's a block away from a college campus and there are lots of parents who come in for the programs. What would make you stop and get a cup of coffee? What would make you *think* about stopping? What would a small group of volunteers need to think about, if we wanted to do this and have it be a fun and successful project?
posted by puckish to Grab Bag (11 answers total)
Very comfy chairs, good lighting, a distribution of interesting looking magazines and/or the current paper on some nearby tables, and some tempting baked eats that go well with coffee are all things that would make me stop. Also nice are cool posters or plants. Between a group of you and/or the church, perhaps you could assemble these things.

In short, I'd think about designing an appealing coffee nook area.
posted by bearwife at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

The people who I see doing this most frequently are the people who set up little Coffee Break situations at rest stops. In that case, you have free coffee and snacks [you could get people to donate or bring in snacks] and a donation jar [that needs to be tended to so that someone doesn't steal it] and literature for your organization if you have any.

The biggest deal for me would be whether this was a CHURCH event or not. Like, I live in New England and churches are part of the fabric here and that's fine. However as a non-believer, I don't want to get shoehorned into having a conversation with people about my beliefs [about god or anything else] so I'd want to be crystal clear that this was, like rummage sales and blood drives and church suppers in this region, a strictly "no preaching" event. Want to highlight the good works the church does, great. Want me to be involved in the church, less great.

That said, wifi. And think about your goal. Bringing more people in the door? Promoting your own activity and getting X more members? Raising awareness for Y topic? Giving people a community space to hang out in [is there not one? what exists already? what do you have to offer? would you be unfairly competing?]? Having people write postcards for Amnesty International? Signing people up for library cards? Whatever you're really trying to do; you say fundraising but I'd assume there are more effective ways to fundraise so you may want to think secondary goals.

In any case, if there was a church around here giving out free coffee in a place with wifi, I'd probably stop by on my route as long as I didn't think people would start trying to sell me on the idea of church. However I'm in a small community and I think the local coffee shops might feel super weird about it so it might be worth considering that.
posted by jessamyn at 3:31 PM on August 30, 2010

I think that you should keep the religious aspect of all of this as far away as possible. Replace all instances of "religion" with "charitable giving".
posted by antgly at 4:16 PM on August 30, 2010

I'm assuming that your organization is somehow connected to religion, and not just using the church's space—the question is not clear.

Either way, I agree that you should be very careful to avoid any kind of churchy vibe or agenda. Certainly no religious symbols, code words, or bits of scripture on the menus, flyers, etc. No "God bless" from the barista at the conclusion of our transaction. The slightest whiff of a recruitment agenda would drive me away. If you're going to say anything at all other than "we'll give you some coffee for a suggested donation of $x.yz", you should talk about the community-works aspect of your program. Even better if you can show me exactly where my money is going, so I know it's something I can get behind.

I second the fresh-baked goods—and "fresh-baked" can mean slice-and-bake cookie dough, for example. It still beats the pants off of Chips Ahoy.

Aside from that, yeah, you're just looking to create a cozy living-room vibe. Comfortable seating that lends itself equally to reading a book, using a laptop, and chatting with others. Low-key (secular) music (preferably something instrumental, like good jazz [not lite jazz]; I find it impossible to read when something else is competing for the verbal part of my brain). Interesting reading materials to flip through (old issues of National Geographic are cheap and widely enjoyed; art books; Calvin and Hobbes anthologies; food and travel books/magazines). A free book swap isn't a bad idea to keep the library stocked and fresh, though it might just end up full of crap that nobody wants—seems like this works well for some places, and not at all for others. Wi-Fi would be a big selling point for me.
posted by ixohoxi at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: We have a machine shop in the basement where we run science workshops for kids. There's an art gallery upstairs that's strictly secular, and the church in general seems pretty awesome and progressive (to me, this means non-preachy and politically engaged).

In terms of "what's the goal?" it could be directed to specific projects (a la lemonade sale I guess) or a cool thing to add to events (shows or openings) or just a hangout space for different people who are using the building.

These are great suggestions! It feels like a slightly less crazy idea now. That's good!
posted by puckish at 5:39 PM on August 30, 2010

Although they sell, rather than give away, you might check out Wild Bill's Coffeeshop and the blog of their former director for some ideas about coffee and community building.

I'm religious and thus wouldn't necessarily be turned off by a religious message (provided I didn't find it politically objectionable), but I would guess that for the general public, the other commentators are right--emphasize the good works aspect, de-emphasize the Jesus aspect.

Also, I'd think about your location. Are you in a place where people might come during those awkward amounts of time we all have in our schedules? Who nearby might have such an awkward amount of time? An hour between classes, or patients? Are you near a laundromat or some other establishment people might want to get away from for awhile?

Also, to what extent can you explain yourself as a place where you don't have to spend money? I am always on the lookout for such places, and now that I have money, I'll often give something to them, because I'm grateful for the times they offered me shelter when I didn't have any money to spare.
posted by newrambler at 5:47 PM on August 30, 2010

You say that a lot of parents stop in .. if they have little kids in tow, a few games and books would be really nice. Parents of young kids often need some place to go that isn't the mall, and isn't a store, just to get some fresh air, give the kiddies a change of scene. If you offer the parents a cup of coffee and the chance for a few minutes of adult conversation, while giving the kids a few puzzles/coloring books/blocks to play with, all for free ... I'd stop in a few times a week with my kid and I'd definitely donate a couple of bucks.
posted by Kangaroo at 7:12 PM on August 30, 2010

See if a local mom&pop coffee roaster/shop is willing to "donate" some beans... ?

Might not work if your clientele are lower income.

I don't know where you are, but if Starbucks is the height of local coffee culture, it might be worthwhile to import a variety of high quality beans and serve them as individual/dual cups (I'm thinking drip coffee - single mug is a little too small to make good coffee consistently without a good grinder). I might be able to get you contact to an extraordinary roaster who might be doing mail orders (they used to be local, they just retired to the Island).
posted by porpoise at 8:43 PM on August 30, 2010

Instead of setting up a stand or a nook, you should bring the coffee to people where they are. Here in Montreal, our winters are quite something. I see people all the time waiting for the bus. What I would suggest is that you wait for it to get a little colder, fall-like, then brew up some great coffee and put it in a huge carafe or thermos, or a few thermoses. Then you either get in a car or get on a bike with a milkcrate bolted to the front. You bike from bus stop to bustop in the mornings, when people are waiting to go to work. You have paper cups, cream and sugar. People will be so delighted and grateful for what you are doing, especially if you are on a bike, because in a subtle way you will be reinforcing their own decision to take public transit rather than to buy a car, that they will happily donate to your church. You making that effort to go to them shows how much you care. They will show you how much they care back with cash.
posted by Sully at 11:33 PM on August 30, 2010

I second Kangaroo's idea of appealing to parents, since you already do well with them, with things to occupy the kiddies. And because they're the supporters of the classes you offer, and their word of mouth is so valuable. This place is tremendously successful around these parts.

What makes me stop for coffee in a scenario such as you've depicted is a chance to talk to someone I already know and like, a place for my little girl to play a bit or learn something, and to support a cause. I'm also a sucker for church ladies, and cannot resist a bake sale with lovingly saran-wrapped unidentifiable squares on plain paper plates held out by trembling age-spotted hands that then pinch my daughter's cheek. A church nearby often has a bake sale on the front lawn selling Forget-Me-Not seeds, baked goods and coffee and everyone stops for a little something.

Our neighbourhood Starbucks donates coffee, supplies and lemonade for our school events (and to other fundraising events) (and other other independently-owned coffee shops donate beans, or even just cups and napkins, which help us too). This allows us to offer the beverages for free or a donations (we have a lot of families from a neighbourhood shelter in our school, and always try to keep thing free and accessible and inclusive to them), but also to charge for other things as a fundraiser. For example, last year we had a "Garden Party", where we had a bake sale with donated goods and cake walks and sold donated plants and seeds - and raised $800 (with volunteers, and a cost of only $25). This year we may do the same, with a used book/media sale bent and a new Book Walk instead of a Cake Walk. What helped was that we only ask for a little money from a lot of people. We'd rather sell a hundred plants for $1, because usually everyone can walk away with something. That's our goal - fundraising - but what attracts the adults is the charitable cause and what draws them is the time of day (after school, during pick-up time) and promoting it to the kids so they asked their folks to bring them (pester power). The themes of supporting our Eco-Schools designation, or Literacy or Fitness or what have you give our events shape.

So, I'd suggest that to attract people, you pick your timing, partner up with a charitable cause, and make them event-centred or have a theme. Have a guest sometimes that the kids will enjoy and that will keep them busy - a storyteller, singer, a sign language course, a craft table so that the adults can spend time. Have an ambassador program, where friends are asked to bring friends. Or, if you can partner with the church population in a secular way, for example, to visit with the seniors, that could be great. I don't go to church, but know through events at the one on the corner that it's the main social circle for many lovely senior ladies who love to plan their craft fair and rummage, and that they just enjoy chatting, not converting those who enjoy those events.
posted by peagood at 9:09 AM on August 31, 2010

no one else said it yet (though snacks were suggested): something that is NOT coffee. At the very least, tea. Better, hot chocolate. Drink mix for kids? Sure, a full juice bar would be great but we would be leaving the realm of possibility.
posted by whatzit at 10:06 AM on August 31, 2010

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