Over on our Facebook page, Michelle K. Sholund asked:
“Hey! I have an issue I want to propose. I am an owner of a small business – a gift shop that happens to handmake our own candles in the shop – in Maryland. We are getting bombarded with requests for donations anywhere from 2-5 a day for church silent auctions, charity fundraisers, fraternities, PTA, etc. The requests come in all directions – private messages via Facebook, email and the wonderful unexpected drop ins. It is driving us nuts. The sad thing is we only see these people when they want something, sadly never supporting the business not even buying one piece of $.75 chocolate. It has been our policy to donate 50% of what the organization is willing to buy – we haven’t had any takers on that deal. What are your thoughts on this? How do others handle donation solicitors?”
Small town businesses play a key role in supporting local nonprofits and organizations. I’m going to give you a lot of ways to say no, but this is not advice to say no to every single request. It’s important to say no to some requests so you can say yes to the ones where you make the biggest difference or feel the most rewards.
I personally make some decisions in advance. For example, my liquor store never donates to children’s causes. It just wouldn’t look right, in my opinion. We do, however, support the After Prom party which helps reduce under-age drinking. So make some decisions before hand, then it’s easier to say no to ones that don’t fit at all.
It may help to have a limited budget. This could be for the month, the quarter or even the year. Once it’s gone, that’s it.
It also helps to have a standard offer, like Michelle’s offer to donate 50% of what they buy. Since Michelle is getting several request a day, I think I’d write up the offer so I could copy and paste it in emails and messages and print it out so I could hand it to walk-in requests.
Another reader Holly Ortolani said, “My hardest are the sports teams, booster clubs and musicals. The schools have cut funding for these wonderful programs so much, and they are turning to the local businesses to help out. I figured out a nice way to sort them out. If a parent asks me to give to their child’s organization, I politely say, ‘Have your child come in and tell me about their organization and what the money is used for and I would be glad to give a donation.’ I am a retired teacher and think it IS VERY important that kids of all ages have ‘people’ skills and should see and know who is donating to their programs. Some parents will bring their child back and some think it is a waste of their child’s time. Sorted!”
Contributor Glenn Muske encourages you to focus your donations in specific areas and budget for them. Read Glenn’s advice to Focus your Community Support Efforts.
For those times when the request more about your time or volunteering, I have more advice on How to Say No Gracefully.
What about your advice? How do you handle the seemingly-endless parade of donation requests in your town?
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Lynne Sturtevant says
I have a local tour company that does historic walking tours. I also get endless requests for donations. It’s easy for me to say yes because I give a gift certificate for a complimentary tour for 2 people. It’s only valid on public tours. The tours run each weekend and it’s no problem for us to have 2 extra people along. It doesn’t cost us anything, in other words. We’re doing the tour anyway. We don’t limit the group size. This seems to satisfy 95% of the groups who request donations.
Becky McCray says
Great idea for donations, Lynne. You’ve found the right way to do it without costing you any additional expenses. Smart!
Tracy Brown says
Hi Becky – thank you for bringing up this topic.
Because we’re small and operate out of a home office, we don’t receive the requests that a bricks and mortar business might. However, we have received “sponsorship” requests from clients. We’ve had to say no when our “charity” budget had already been earmarked for the year. Last year, one client in particular was perturbed with us when we declined sponsoring one of her (commercial) events. It was very uncomfortable. We had sponsored the event the year before, but it just wasn’t something we wanted to continue. Moving forward we decided to direct our contributions to our local economy – more specifically, to a local non-profit we admire and support that serves women in our community.
Because of this situation, we’ve considered not sponsoring any commercial client event/initiative. I don’t want to say we’d never do it – because there might be some worthwhile reason to do so in the future – but we learned that it might not be a good practice. I suppose we’ll take it on a case-by-case basis, but I’ll be reluctant to set the precedent of sponsoring a commercial client again.
Becky McCray says
Tracy, that’s a tricky situation. Commercial events just don’t seem the same as local community-oriented donations. And it’s tough to stop sponsoring any event, commercial or community. No one likes to be the one who says no after saying yes in previous years.
Becky McCray says
Reader Nora Nickel sent this comment:
“I am bombarded with requests for advertising. Sometimes I go for it, but often it is a business card size ad for $250.00. I have an antique store and advertise in a flyer that goes all over the state for that same money. The donation requests come mostly from schools and sometime the Chamber. I can’t see the value of this ad that has a limited audience of sport parents. We are near two small towns (very small towns) and two large towns ( 150,000 to 250,000 people) We get requests from all of these for school projects. If I give to the basketball team, I also have to give to the football team, the baseball team, the cheerleading team, and the list goes on. Our town including outlying subdivisions is about 15,000.
We also have people who constantly want to put up flyers of their upcoming events. We have a tea room, and I have organizations who are having a special tea and want us to advertise theirs????
I have solved our problem by setting aside a budget for donations and when the funds are gone, they are gone. I give annually to my favorite projects, including donations for handicapped and emotional damaged children.
I like the idea of giving 50% of what the organization buys from our store. That would weed out those who never shop in my store. We also have a private label food line, and I will usually donate those items for auction fundraisers. That way I get the advertising and the donation done in one swoop.”
Good thoughts, Nora. Thanks for sharing!
Doug Cota says
I run a bike shop in a small town in Ontario. Like everyone else we receive multiple requests for donations. I treat donations as part of my marketing budget, I only donate to those that there is some chance that they will use or have used our services. Our donation is usually in the form of a gift certificate for a tuneup or an amount off their next purchase. Recently we gave out 450 gift certificates, one to each of the players at a local fun hockey tournament. By doing it this way we support the event, by adding value and drive customers to our store.
Becky McCray says
Doug, that’s a smart approach. I like the idea of a bike tune-up gift certificate because no one is going to use it who is not a potential customer.