While planning a program with/for teens, it’s always important to ask yourself questions your teens will ask: “Is it too much like school?”,’  “Why should I participate?”,’  and perhaps the most important, “What’s in it for me?”

While giving back and doing for the benefit of others is all well and good, teens often find themselves with too many activities and not enough time. They pick what to spend their free time doing, and often that last question helps them decide. Will they get community service hours? Or something to put on the resume/college application?’  But often, it can be as simple as a reward for participating.

I am sure that while teens like to read, many of them also participate in summer reading programs in order to have a chance a some great prizes, as so many of us offer in our’  programs. But with our shrinking (or non existent) budgets, how can we provide incentives teens will want?

The first thing to consider is to try to pick incentives that appeal to your teens. Give them something different from what is given away in the children’s programs. Don’t feel that you must spend lots of money to get teens something they will enjoy. Many are happy with coupons to local restaurants and places of entertainment. Others love a $5.00 iTunes gift card (that’s 4+ songs!). Some even like raising money to plan other teen programs and projects.And remember that prizes and incentives don’t have to be limited to just summer.

So now you have your list of incentives, now how are you going to get them? Never underestimate the power of a well written letter and the personal touch. Write letters to many, many different business, while being specific about what you would like from them.

If you are writing to a big box retailer, in hopes that they will donate a Nintendo Wii to your program, state the prize in your letter. Be sure to explain your program, what you will be doing with the donation, and what the company will get in return (a mention in your library newsletter, an article about their generosity in your local paper, the patronage of really excited, money-spending teens in the community!)

Be sure to send letters to local as well as national businesses. Follow up with a phone call, or sometimes several. Patience and manners do pay off! Make friends with your local comic book store. Often, they have leftover comics, promos, and other fun things teens love! Movie theaters and video stores often have an abundance of movie posters you can use as decoration in your teen room and as prizes.

Think outside the box! Ask a production company for a donation of a popular tv show on DVD (yes, I did this and I got seasons 1-4 of The O.C. on DVD a few years ago). A local salon may give a donation of a back to school hair cut/style. Write to your national sports teams’ Community Relations departments; often they have small incentives available for programs like yours!

If you are having an author visit, be sure to ask the author’s publisher for incentives that you can give out to celebrate the visit. And don’t forget your library organizations. Ask your Friends group to donate a small sum of money to purchase small incentives for all participants–maybe those rubber “Livestrong” bracelets, or frisbees. Be sure to’  follow up with a thank you note (I have found that a hand-written’  note is especially appreciated).

Sound like a lot of work? It can be time consuming, so it is important to plan well in advance. But once you establish a relationship with’  contacts at various places, you will find that asking for donations gets easier. Many will be familiar with your program and you personally, which makes the asking and accepting much less work. And your work will be appreciated by the teens who participate, as well as their families.

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