Here at Volunteer Maryland, we love in-kind donation success stories. Anyone who as ever solicited in-kind donations knows that 1) It can sometimes be awkward and intimidating to ask businesses for free stuff, and 2) it feels amazing to get free stuff!
We are so passionate about in-kind donations at Volunteer Maryland that our Support Team provides thorough training on how to do it. We cover everything from designing the ask, to researching good businesses to approach, to how to give our donors lots of publicity, and how to thank them in a way that makes them feel truly appreciated and that maintains an excellent partnership.
One member of Volunteer Maryland Class 25 who has done a brilliant job of soliciting said free stuff is Ellen Dahill-Brown. Ellen is VMC at CALM Frederick, which is a conflict mediation center. Among her many other responsibilities, Ellen is responsible for making sure volunteer mediators are fed throughout long training days, which is a daunting task indeed. The results of her hard work? See for yourself! When I asked Ellen to list the donations she received for the most recent training at CALM, she wrote:
“Starbucks: 1st day and 3rd day travel containers of coffee, enough for 20 people. Cups, cream, and sugar for the coffee.
Dunkin Donuts: 1st and 3rd day 3 dozen donuts each day.
Wegmans: $50 gift card, used to buy a deli tray.
Weis: $32.50 gift card, used to buy a deli tray.
Giant: $20 gift card, used to buy bananas, oatmeal, ice and creamer.”
About her process, Ellen writes
“For the most part, the people I requested donations from don’t have online forms (other than Wegmans). So my strategy was to cold call the organizations. I asked them what they would need from me to even proceed with an ask. When I called Dunkin Donuts they didn’t let me finish my question before they said it wouldn’t be a problem for them to donate 3 dozen donuts. They said that a letter would help but that it wasn’t necessary.
The majority of the organizations require a request letter on the organization’s letterhead. Some of the organizations want proof of nonprofit status. Making the initial contact, and letting them know that I’m trying to make their life as easy as possible, has really opened the door for relationship building.”
So there you have it. Don’t be afraid to approach local businesses (whether truly local or part of a chain) with clear information about what you need and your wish to make things as easy as possible for them. Congratulations to Ellen and to all the VMCs who are supporting the work of their organizations and their volunteers by bringing in all these important donations, and thanks to all the businesses who so freely donate to local nonprofits.