Thank You…

…all for making Destination AmeriCorps a success:

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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.

VM’s Peer Leader Diaries: Smooth Sailing

 For residents of the Delmarva area, especially us Marylanders, the mention of Saint Michaels is usually followed by a harmonized combination of “oohs” and aahs.”  In recent years, it has been called the new Martha’s Vineyard.  So you can imagine my reaction to learning that this year’s Mid-Year Retreat would be at Harbourtowne in Saint Michaels!

Last week, I spent two glorious days with the Volunteer Maryland (VM) Support Team and Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs).  By participating in various workshops, team building activities (pun intended with the photo to the left), having “family” meals, and competing in games I learned that we are more alike than we are different.  Though we come from different backgrounds, have different personalities, and work at different Service Sites, we are still similar.  Prior to the Mid-Year Retreat I did not have the opportunity to make that connection with all of the VMCs and VM Support Team; however, after two days nestled with one another we reconnected as a class and are re-energized for the remaining months of this service year!

You may be wondering why we needed to re-energize in the first place.  Valid question.  Since Pre-Service Training in September, aside from once a month for In-Service Training, the VMCs have been working hard at their separate Service Sites to further develop volunteer programs, the VM staff have been busy working in their individual roles, and the Peer Leaders have been fulfilling the aspects of their positions with VM, the VMCs, and their Host Sites.  Before we know it, this service year will be over and all of us are working at a sprint and marathon pace to meet the goals of this year.  By the mid-point of the year we have experienced a dip in a our energy levels, which is why the Mid-Year Retreat is strategically planned as a time to step away from our offices and refocus on why we love what we do.  Not only that, but Laura, Maureen, and Patrice  facilitate awesome workshops that pertain to the service year and beyond!  I have not laughed that much in a long time or played Apples to Apples that long.  I am looking forward to staying connected to the VM class and Support Team after the service year ends in July.  I can’t imagine working with a better team.      

So what is next?  The next big project for the Peer Leaders is the third annual Destination AmeriCorps.  This event will be at the Mount Washington Conference Center in Baltimore on AmeriFriday, May 11.  AmeriCorps members in Maryland are invited to attend this great networking and social event.  There will be food, fun, and prizes, and the best part is that it is FREE!  We only have twenty spots left, so if you want to attend be sure to register sooner rather than later.  We hope to see you there!

Mark Your Calendar to Celebrate Service!

The Super Bowl is over, but the season of celebrating success is just beginning! In my dream world, we celebrate service as much (or more!) as we do sports. Dedicating oneself to serving others takes courage, perseverance, patience, empathy, and so much more. That’s why I want to let you know about some upcoming ways to recognize those who serve as AmeriCorps members and volunteers.

Next month, we’ll celebrate National AmeriCorps Week. The theme this year is AmeriCorps Works and we’re looking forward to showcasing how AmeriCorps is working here in Maryland – for our communities, for our Service Sites, and for our AmeriCorps members and Alums. I hope you’ll join us from March 10 – 18 to tell your stories of how AmeriCorps has worked and is working for you!

In April, we’ll join another national week of recognition; National Volunteer Week is April 15 – 21, 2012. This is a wonderful time to go the extra mile to thank volunteers for their service! During this week, recognize and celebrate your volunteers and the power of volunteerism. Make a commitment to demonstrate the value and impact that volunteerism has in your organization and your community.

Then, in May, we’ll recognize volunteers in Maryland who have made significant contributions over the last year. That’s right – it’s the Governor’s Volunteer Service Awards! Each year, these awards are presented by the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism (GOSV) for “outstanding volunteer service that provides meaningful and direct impact in Maryland communities.” And there’s only one way the GOSV can know who these amazing volunteers are; you have to tell them. Nominations are due by March 16, 2012; you can find more information on the awards and the nomination form here.

Also in May, Volunteer Maryland and the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism are hosting the third annual Destination AmeriCorps.  Through Destination AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps members from a diverse collection of AmeriCorps programs in Maryland will jhave the opportunity to network and learn about other AmeriCorps programs; celebrate the impact of AmeriCorps in Maryland; win prizes; and have an incredibly fun time.  We’re happily planning away for Destination AmeriCorps right now, with Barb and Joy leading the way.  They both participated in last year’s event and are bringing great ideas to this one; it promises to be a success!

These are three great events that are always exciting. Still, don’t wait to celebrate service! Make sure you do so today and everyday!