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Limeades for Learning and a Decade of Supporting Public Teachers

By Raj Prashad

Over the last 10 years, SONIC Drive-In has partnered with DonorsChoose to support public school teachers in local communities across the United States through its Limeades for Learning program. As the program was developed, SONIC found that its guests cared deeply about supporting public school teachers and that franchisees were already heavily involved in supporting schools and their communities.

“When we began exploring building Limeades for Learning, we thought about the location of our drive-ins. There’s at least one school in every town we’re located,” said Christi Woodworth, Vice President of Public Relations for SONIC. “It also helped that so many of our franchise groups were hosting school fundraisers or donating proceeds to schools in their communities. So, we worked to build one program that we could collectively support as a system.”

In order to help put funds raised back into local communities, SONIC identified DonorsChoose as the partner of choice. Founded in 2000, DonorsChoose was created by a teacher and his students to support teachers and their classroom projects. And while the organization was limited to larger cities at the time, the SONIC team could foresee how it would eventually be open to every public school in America, as it is today.

“What we loved about DonorsChoose was that they were building this technology platform that in some ways is location agnostic. While they started in New York, it could really be applied anywhere,” Woodworth said. “This was before GoFundMe or any other crowdsourcing sites were open when Limeades for Learning started in 2009. We created a microsite for a voting campaign, where guests could vote on teachers’ projects and it’s still a hallmark of our platform today. We did our homework, did all the research and worked with the teams to put this to market in less than a year.”

For the first six years, the program ran exclusively in the fall. But in recent years, thanks to overwhelming interest and support from guests and franchisees across the country, Limeades for Learning continues to grow with a campaign that runs year-round.

“We often talk about the program as supporting teachers because we believe that teachers are very entrepreneurial. They will find a solution to problems we can’t even imagine they have. If you look at the SONIC values of relationships and respect, entrepreneurial spirit, fun, surprise and delight, they’re very much aligned with the way the teachers are working in the classroom,” Woodworth said.

“Limeades for Learning is so important because about 90 percent of the kids in this country go to public school. If we want to have well-informed citizens, we need to make sure our public schools are as strong as they possibly can be. The majority of kids that we employ in our restaurants go to public school. We’re often their first employer. If we want them to be strong contributing members of society, whether they’re still in our industry or not, they’ve got to have a good education. For me it is the backbone of the potential life-changing opportunities that kids can experience.”

Since its inception, Limeades for Learning has donated $17 million, impacted more than 5 million students and supported more than 26,000 teachers nationwide.