Dear [Business], please give me [product], preferably for free.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Does it sound terrifying to you?  If you’ve never had to ask for in-kind donations during your nonprofit career, you probably will at some point, and if you have, you know how difficult it can be.  Here at Volunteer Maryland, we’re pretty familiar with in-kind donations (if you’re a long time blog reader, you’ll remember Katelyn touched on Making the Ask in February) and it’s something we teach all of our AmeriCorps members about.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, “Just what are these in-kind donations she’s talking about?”  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, in-kind donations are goods and/or services donated by businesses in lieu of cash contributions.  They can be anything from meeting space, to food, to gift cards, to skilled labor from a lawyer, graphic artist, etc.  The point is, in-kind donations get you what you need when your budget cannot cover the cost of the same goods or services.  In-kind donations can also be a viable alternative for individuals who are unable to volunteer their time in direct service to your organization but who still want to help in some way.  Hopefully you can see now how valuable in-kind donations can be for your organization, but you may still be wondering how exactly to go about this tricky (and awkward) process.  Here are the steps we share with our AmeriCorps members:

  1. Determine your needs—look at what your organization already has and think about what you need to make your event successful or to carry on the mission of your organization.
  2. Gather or create necessary materials—request letters, brochures or reports, quotes or testimonials from clients or consumers.
  3. Create target list of potential donors—start by looking for existing relationships your organization has in the business community, then look for donors who support your mission or businesses your clients might frequent.
  4. Design your ask—begin with the organization’s mission, clearly specify your needs, and give the potential donor multiple options so they can choose what they want to contribute.
  5. Make the ask!  You can do it!
  6. Follow-up—if the answer is yes, follow the donor’s procedures for the goods and/or services.  Example:  if the donor of a local bagel shop agrees to give you 36 bagels for your volunteer training and they need you to pick them up, make sure you ask and follow the exact date and time of pickup.  Be sure to get the specific name of the contact/donor, her/his phone number(s), and confirm the pickup the day before.
  7. If the answer is no, follow-up with a professional “thank you for your time” note or email. This positions you well in the donor’s mind, and he/she may be more likely to donate if you come around again.
  8. Follow-up again—be sure to send thank you letters to donors and document donations as required per your organization’s policy.

Congratulations!  You’re now an expert on in-kind donations!  But before you run off and start getting donations from every business you’ve ever been to, consider these reality checks: as with recruitment or job hunting, you will get rejected more than once, but you’ve made the effort to start the relationship and you never know if an organization will contribute in the future, so don’t despair; the clearer you are about what you want, the policies your donor has for making donations, and the policies your organization has for receiving donations, the better, you may run in to trouble otherwise; and always ask your donor to assign a dollar amount to their donation for your tax purposes as well as theirs!

Ok, now you’re an expert on in-kind donations.  Remember, asking people to donate is difficult and can be awkward but if you let your passion for your mission shine through, people will be more than willing to help.  In-kind donations give businesses and individuals who cannot contribute their time an alternative way to make an impact on the community and a chance to publicize themselves as charitable organizations.  It may be hard to ask, but it is worth it!  If you really are an in-kind donations expert, please share your experiences in the comments and leave any tips you may have for those of us who have never done it before!

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3 thoughts on “Dear [Business], please give me [product], preferably for free.

  1. Pingback: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes « Volunteer Maryland

  2. Pingback: Whey Your Management Options « Volunteer Maryland

  3. Pingback: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – Volunteer Maryland

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