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The Do’s and Don’ts of Requesting Business Donations

Most professional organizers are generous people who love to help a good cause. But we are also small business owners lacking deep pockets to draw on for charitable or pro-bono causes. This can sometimes cause friction, because most solicitors are good-hearted people trying to help their cause, but many (maybe most) of them have never owned a small business and so may not understand what their request looks like from the other side.

This situation calls for some do’s and don’ts, just a few simple rules and suggestions to minimize the burdens and smooth the interaction for everyone involved. Here are my golden “commandments” for successful business donations for both the business owner and the donation-seeker.

Donation Seekers’ Do’s

Consider what you are asking for. Donation “askers” may be surprised to learn how little many small businesses earn. The local grocery chain might donate a $100 gift certificate to your fundraiser, but the typical professional organizer earns a tiny fraction of what the grocery store does. Meanwhile, some organizations may ask a speaker to prepare a talk, drive some distance, attend a meeting, and drive back, easily taking up half a day or more of the business owner’s time. Be careful about asking for something out of proportion with the business’ size.

Consider how you can make it worthwhile for the donor’s business. One group that I spoke to recently stands out because they were exceptionally kind. Here are some of the ways they showed their gratitude. They:

  • sent me a video snippet of me presenting to their group (This can be worth gold to a small business owner, especially one who is sometimes paid for speaking!)
  • posted a video of me on their social media pages
  • wrote a blurb about me in their newsletter
  • blogged about my presentation

Each of these actions is valuable as a way of giving visibility to the business owner who makes a donation. All of them together made me feel that we had a warm, sun-shiny collaboration that brilliantly supported both the organization AND my business.

Spread the requests around. There is an old Italian saying that goes, “If you go to the well too often, you will surely crack your crock.” In other words, don’t keep making the same request at the same place. Be sensitive to your donors’ limits. You might even call to say that you appreciate all they’ve done in the past, assure them that you wouldn’t want to ask again, but ask them to suggest someone else, leaving the door open for them to volunteer, just in case. But leave a nice wide opening for your past donor to take a needed break before your “crock” cracks.

Explain why you think your cause or organization is a good fit for the donor. I’ll be honest, I get quite a few requests for donations and talks and it helps a lot if I know why you chose me to contact. Do we have any connections in common, or am I just someone on somebody’s list? Have you really thought about how I could add value to your organization?

Business Owner Do’s

Respond as promptly as possible to a request. It’s never good business to keep someone waiting. Respond with your yes, your no, or your request for more information.

Think clearly about what you can afford to give. All of us have limits to our time, energy, and money. Remember that saying yes to one organization means you must say no to another one. Only give what you can afford.

If it’s not right for you, consider whether you know someone who might be a better fit. Let’s say you’ve been asked to speak to a group of young mothers about home organizing, but the group is not in your service area, so it will never result in good clients for you. Can you pass it on to a colleague? If so, contact the other professional organizer to get his or her permission, then share their contact details with the donation seeker.

Donation Seekers’ Don’ts

Don’t ask several times in the same year unless you know that your cause is also your donor’s cause. A friend of mine has a family member with epilepsy. She will help out the epilepsy-related charity every time they call, no matter how often. But just because a donor contributed to your cause once, don’t assume that it has become their cause as well. Professional fundraisers know not to wear out a donor with multiple requests.

Don’t neglect to show your donors your appreciation. If someone in your organization writes a nice Linked-In recommendation for your speaker or donor, they are so much more likely to say yes the next time! Hand-written notes in the mail are always nice, but don’t neglect to thank your donors publically, too.

Business Owner Don’ts

Don’t say yes to things you will resent. We all love to make people happy, but as a business owner you must be savvy with your time and exposure. Think twice before saying yes to requests that give nothing in return.

Don’t neglect to tell requesters how they can repay you. Let’s be honest, eating another “rubber chicken” dinner at a gala is not going to help promote your business. In lieu of a meal, you may want to ask, “Would you be willing to publish an article that I write in your newsletter?” This gives you greater visibility, and if well timed, it can also raise the value of what the organization gets for your donation at their fundraiser; a win-win for you and the charity.

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