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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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.