A Path To "Yes"
One of the great joys of being a small business owner is the opportunity to support our community through donations. From schools and charities to churches and youth sports teams, the list of worthy organizations in need is long. Sometimes that list is so long that the requests become overwhelming. And if you’ve ever been in the role of PTA parent or non-profit fundraiser, you know that making donation requests can be intimidating and exhausting. There are many “nos” on the path to “yes.”
After three years in business and hundreds of donation requests filled, I have observed a few practices that can make the process more enjoyable and successful for the recipient and the donor. This holiday season, if you are looking to partner with businesses to give back to the community, just try these tips.
– Make it personal. Do you frequent the business? Are you familiar with its products or services? If not, consider engaging a buddy or colleague who is. Being a patron is certainly not a prerequisite for donation requests, but in my experience, some of the most lasting partnerships were facilitated by “regulars” in the store who had already become trusted friends of the business, which made their requests natural and authentic. Their annual asks are now expected and fluidly delivered.
On the flip side, we’ve had the deflating experience of ending a donation conversation with the recipient asking for directions to the store because “I’ve never been there!” or saying, “I look forward to having a donut at our fundraiser. I’ve never tried one!” Especially for small businesses that operate under resource constraints and budgeting decisions, giving away money and product is deeply personal. We’re people giving to people and don’t want to feel like a nameless, faceless entity interchangeable with a competitor.
– Craft a concrete ask … or two. The more specific your request, the better. General requests are harder to evaluate, and may make small businesses wary of missing expectations or disappointing recipients. If you’re unsure of their ability to give, offer a range of participation options from monetary support, to purely in-kind donations, to auction or raffle items. If businesses are unable to provide free products or services, inquire about discounts.
– Provide ample lead time. Whenever possible, make requests a few weeks in advance. We often receive a dozen or more requests in a week, and it takes time to play phone tag with contacts and solidify donations. At times we also have to schedule additional team members or purchase extra goods to fulfill a request, so planning in advance is essential.
– Say “thank you.” Experience shows that less than 50% of donation recipients say “thank you.” Yet a simple word of gratitude can go a long way in keeping small businesses responsive to your donation requests year after year. A text message with a photo of the event, a shout-out on social media, a short acknowledgement email, or a brief handwritten note are all great ways to show appreciation – the thought is more important than the method. When acknowledging cash contributions or large product donations, a report or letter that outlines donation impact is key.
– Avoid donor fatigue. Once a business has given to your organization, although it’s tempting to come back to them for every similar need that arises, try to spread your asks across multiple sources. Think about the opportunities that are most aligned with each business, and make selective requests over the course of a year.