This article isn’t intended to be about running a business, teach you how to coach better, or how to get a PR. Instead, its intention is to show how you can use your gym to make a huge impact on the world.
Each year, my gym hosts what we call a “Joy Prom.” This event is different from the proms when we were in school because it is a beautiful night we put together for the special needs community. With a little bit of effort and time, you can have a huge impact on some amazing people.
We will host our Joy Prom for the seventh year this February. The first year we hosted it, we had 12 kids show up and for us, that was a huge success. The second year, we had 82 kids. In the third year, we had 160 special needs members of our community in our gym enjoying a party and it continues to grow.
It’s an amazing feeling to help people, and so I’m going to explain how you can do it. You’re going to need sponsors for your event. To get sponsors, granted they love helping you, but you have to remember that they are also making a business investment and need a return on that investment. Whenever you post on social media about the upcoming Joy Prom, you have to market the sponsors at the same time or you will not have any sponsors the next year.
You have to pick a date. I suggest allowing six months to plan and picking a time when there are few school activities going on. That’s how we choose February. We don’t pick this date for the convenience of the guests at the Joy Prom, but with fewer activities going on at school, you’re much more likely to get more help for the night of your event.
When you have your date and time set, call all of the newspapers and news stations. They love hearing that a Powerlifting, CrossFit, Olympic Weightlifting gym—whatever you are— is taking the initiative to help the world be a better place. It’s great marketing for your gym and promotes the event so that next year you’ll have more people. If you are a new gym owner, it can help you to become well known in your community very quickly.
Now that you have your date, figure out what to do with all the equipment in your gym. You can’t have barbells, chains, and kettlebells just laying around during the Joy Prom. What we do is ask a local business that owns a tractor-trailer truck to let us use it for a few days in exchange for being a sponsor of the event. The business always lets us borrow it, and we park on the property, load it up, and lock the doors. To add an extra layer of protection, the driver backs the truck up to the building so the doors can’t be opened.
Now you have a date and you know what you’re going to do with your gym equipment—an awesome start. Next, you’re going to need a DJ. I lucked up as one of my members is a DJ, so he trades me his services for a sponsorship. Call around to the DJs in your area. Explain to them exactly what this event is and ask if they will be willing to trade a night of their services at the Joy Prom in exchange for a sponsorship. You’re probably not going to have to make many calls before someone jumps on board. Keep in mind these guys are booked well in advance, so this is another reason you need to give yourself six months.
Food is an important point. You have to feed these awesome people. This is where the sponsors really matter the most. Finding a restaurant that will be a sponsor can be tricky. Here is what I suggest. Ask a restaurant for a sponsorship of finger foods and drinks. In exchange, you’ll market HEAVILY that they are sponsoring the event and that the after-party for the kids will be at the restaurant. On all of your promotional materials and social media posts, you’ll need to post information about the restaurant sponsor and the after-party. The party can just be getting together later and eating and it brings customers to the restaurant and so its reputation will greatly increase within a community of people who are amazingly tightly knit.
Having a photographer would be awesome. They post photos online with your logo on them. If not, no big deal, especially if the photographer is donating time for the event. If it’s a professional photographer, allow him/her to put a business logo on the pictures in exchange for a sponsorship.
As for the photographs, you’re going to want a backdrop for the photographer or the parents or both. This backdrop needs to show all of your sponsors’ logos. This is the marketing and branding that will give them a return on their investment. Each time a picture is shared on social media, their logo will be shared and everyone will know they are a supporter of this event. This is a must have and you probably won’t get a sponsorship for it, so this is where the cash sponsors come in handy.
You also have to find a sponsor for the decorations. There is a good possibility that the designer you speak with will see this as an opportunity to show off what they can do and reach a new market. You have to provide them with a return on their investment, though, and market them HEAVILY for their help. It’s not terribly hard to decorate a gym if you can get a bit creative. We have a rig in the gym that can’t be moved. So we wrap it with a colored fabric and it actually looks nice. Inside the rig, we have booths for the participants, such as nail painting, face painting, or games.
This brings me to the next point, volunteers. You’re going to need a LOT of help with this event to move everything out of the gym, clean up, decorate, serve food, and eventually get everything back in the gym. Luckily, volunteers for events like this are easy to find. Figure out how many stations will need people. At my event, we have a person who takes the guests’ names as they walk in. That person runs down the red carpet we have laid out for the guests to walk into the prom area, and that person tells another person whose then announces them on a microphone. This is one of the ways that we try our best to help our guests feel like royalty.
As for the food, you’re going to need volunteers based on how many tables/booths you have. No matter how many people you think you’ll need, add five more, as you’ll need them all.
You’ll also want to consider getting financial sponsorships as well. You never know how many unexpected costs will pop up, and you will have unexpected costs. My first year of hosting an event, we decided to crown a prom King and Queen. Seemed like a great idea until I had a room full of crying kids who didn’t get a crown, so I had to make a mad dash to buy more crowns. That’s just one of many examples, so plan on needing a few hundred dollars on the side for unexpected expenses. This amount should be easy to get from the sponsors.
When the event is over, you want to get everything back in the gym. You’ll have many people all in a great mood and all willing to help. You’ll want to use this opportunity to get the gym back to how it should be or it will take you hours longer later.
So, here is the hardest part of this kind of event: Reaching the community who can benefit the most. You need to contact schools, look for Facebook groups, and search the Internet for groups that work directly with special needs individuals. For me, this was the absolute hardest part. As I said earlier, the first year we had 12 attendees, and two years later we had 160. Word will spread.
Guys, that’s it. I won’t lie: it’s a lot of work with zero financial return, but you’re not doing it for the money. This is an event you do because you want to make someone feel special who could never do anything to repay you. My next event is in February, and I would love for you guys to do one at the same time so that, together, the strength community can have a big impact on the world.
If you have questions about this or want help, call me, email me, whatever, as I’ll be more than happy to help you host your Joy Prom. Heck, I’ll come and help you put it on if that’s what you need.
I hope you guys will take me up on this challenge of putting on a Joy Prom. It’s really an amazing event.