5 questions to consider before Starting a Program
The benefits of the Lights On! program are many and measurable.
Individual drivers are overjoyed to receive a free repair voucher. The people who get stopped the most for faulty lights - low-income drivers - are kept from being pulled down financially because of traffic debt. Police-community relations improve. Officers’ stress levels are reduced. And your community will begin to look for other creative ways to address community problems. Whether initiated by the police department, a local non-profit or a group of business owners, a Lights On! program in your city is fundamentally about helping your neighbors and building a stronger community.
Who is going to drive your program?
Lights On! - Twin Cities (LO-TC) will give you as much guidance as possible but, in the end, the strength and success of the program will come from the people of your city who are dedicated to helping each other. To date, most programs have been initiated by the local police departments who then recruited and organized the other players to jointly make it happen. But there are other ways as well.
Your program can be driven by an existing local non-profit, by a completely new non-profit created solely for this purpose, by a business group, or by the police department. Someone must take ownership and carry the majority of the load.
How will the voucher recipients be identified or be given the vouchers?
This is usually done by police departments, but drivers shouldn’t always have to wait until they see the flashing lights in their rearview mirrors. Maybe you will consider other ways of distributing vouchers, like through local service agencies, non-profits or community events. With these other delivery options, the voucher distribution can still come via the police or it can be done through other organizations.
Once the drivers receive the vouchers, who will be replacing the bulbs?
In the Twin Cities, we were fortunate to already have an existing relationship with Bobby & Steve’s Auto World prior to the formation of Lights On! This allowed us to utilize their commitment to the community and quality customer service along with the broad geographical distribution of their locations. Other cities with Lights On! type programs have chosen other service provider options. In one city, they are partnering with the local auto repair training centers. Another has organized their service providers via the local chamber of commerce. A third was organized by a local independent auto repair shop owner who recruited six other shops to join him in starting their own program.
Whichever route you take with the service providers, the key is their commitment to the community and ensuring that their participation is not about profiting financially. (Note: Bobby & Steve’s staff have repeatedly stated that the appreciation felt by the Lights On! voucher recipients has frequently resulted in them returning for other car repair services.)
Where is the money going to come from?
LO-TC will give you all the guidance we can, but each city will have to fund its own program. Expenses will include the cost of bulbs (Our data has shown that the average bulb repair has cost us $43; the cost of the individual bulbs themselves have ranged from $12 to $325), administration of the program, possibly paying for other auto light-related repairs, promotional expenses, etc. How will this work for you?
With LO-TC, MicroGrants has raised the money to pay for replacement bulbs. These bulbs are all purchased at cost and our service providers do the bulb replacement at incredibly reduced rates. In other cities, their police departments were able to fund their programs or the group that started their program was able to procure a grant from a local foundation. One money-saving idea that you may want to consider is to recruit a local auto parts supplier to donate the bulbs. That will reduce your costs considerably.
Additional Repair Costs
In the years that we have been operating our Lights On! program, we have found that around 10% of the light problems are not related to bad bulbs. In these situations, the light problem is due to other issues, frequently with the car’s electrical wiring. As can be expected, those repairs cost are significantly higher. At LO-TC we have chosen to pay for all light repairs with rare exceptions. In our program, each time this happens the service provider calls the MicroGrants office and is required to get approval for the additional funds.
Who is going to administer your program?
Here in the Twin Cities, MicroGrants existed before our Lights On! program began and MicroGrants was a natural fit for a program of this type. However you decide to operate your program, there will need to be designated people to oversee its operation. The police department or a non-profit might be the group that gets the program started, but someone will need to keep it on track once it’s operational. Our program doesn’t require significant staff time, but we know it wouldn’t survive without regular attention and administration.