In-kind what?: Tips on Perfecting the Ask for Donations

Unless you have been living in “no man’s land” you have probably heard the phrase “in-kind donation” once or twice before.  When I joined AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland in 2010, I heard this phrase often, but still had many questions.  What is all  this talk about acquiring in-kind donations?  What is an in-kind donation?  Funding is limited for organizations as a whole, how am I going to get them invested in donating items?  What types of donations am I looking for?  All of these questions were in rotation in my mind, instilling uncertainty and low confidence in my abilities.  Thankfully, working with Volunteer Maryland has given me plenty of opportunities to practice what works and what doesn’t.  Hopefully you walk away with tips that can work for you.

What is an in-kind donation?  In-kind donations are items or services given without receiving some form of payment in return.  These can be gift cards from a business, meeting space, bagels from your local bakery, an hour (or more) of photography for an event…ANYTHING!  The kinds of donations are endless and should be approached as such.  Which brings me to my tips for securing donations:

1.  Know what you are asking for.  How can you expect a business to give you a donation if you are unsure of what you want?  Don’t expect it.  You should be prepared with a list of items or services and the quantities of each that you are asking.  Randomness will not help too much.  Make a list before you go.

2.  Know why you are asking for this specific donation.  If you are going to ask Target for a $25.00 gift card, be prepared to explain how this gift card will benefit your clients/business.  Donors want to know the cause they are supporting, even if their product will be used as a prize during an event.

3.  Narrow your list to your top asking companies.  The last thing you want to do is drive around aimlessly, visiting every place you see.  Trust me, nothing will be accomplished and you’ll kick yourself for using your gas.  Know where you want to go before hand.  Do research on what they offer and how that fits into your in-kind donation plan.

4.  Sketch out a script and practice.  I cannot stress this enough; practice, practice, practice!  You may think of yourself as the best persuader in the world, but having a basic outline of how you will make your ask is excellent preparation.  It is easier to tweak a script that exists as opposed to one only in your head.  Practice with a coworker.

5.   Do not accept rejection!  Receiving a “no” from a business is not uncommon, otherwise we wouldn’t be go through so much trouble in prepping ourselves.  Do not let a few nays dry up your energy.  As humans, we dislike rejection, however, this is why having a list of your top businesses is crucial.  One may say “no” but you still have others to try, so keep going!

6.  Prepare a request letter template.  Different companies have different policies on how they receive requests for donations.  Have  a template ready and make edits as you see fit.  When you visit a business that only accepts letter requests, you can have your letter on hand and deliver it personally.  It adds a personal touch.

Make sure that you are keeping track of the donations you receive.  Send a follow up thank you note and receipt to all donors and make a copy for yourself.  That information will be helpful when you complete your reporting of any kind.  I am not a master of securing donations, but I have had a lot of practice and am changing my game plan as I go.  For Destination AmeriCorps, I was able to secure MyLipCandy products (valued at $27.00) and an hour personal assessment consultation from Freddie Bell Jones Modeling & Finishing School, Inc (valued at $125.00).  I am very excited that these businesses have contributed to this year’s event.  I did not think in-kind donations was my thing, but I am proving myself wrong.  Join in and let us know your best practices in securing donations.


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