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Donation Dilemma

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | December 10, 2016
A lot of businesses are getting “hit up” for donations this year, sometimes four and five times a day.  Although they want to give to everyone, the process can be a little overwhelming.  So, businesses have asked for advice on how to handle the constant barrage of asks.  Businesses often need a “lens” through which they can judge the appropriateness of a donation to a particular organization or individual.  Here is our advice:
1.  Is the person asking for a donation a customer of your business?– Donations should be a reciprocal relationship whenever possible.  If you’ve never seen someone that is asking you for money, that’s a red flag.
2.  Does the mission of the organization asking for funds align with your business mission?- If you are a bar, and someone comes to you asking for a donation for a teen camp, that might not be a message you want to send. But, if you are a ladies clothing store and a women’s organization comes to you for a donation, you might consider the donation as a way to reach your target audience.
3.  Is the person asking polite?  I know this sounds strange, but we get reports about people interrupting sales to ask for a donation, or making declarative statements like “if you don’t donate to us you must hate kids” (true story).  If the person asking for something is inconsiderate, it might be best just to decline the ask.
4.  Will they accept gift certificates?  One way to encourage a reciprocal relationship is to donate gift certificates.  If the certificate isn’t used (only about 80% are used nationally), you aren’t out anything.  If certificates are used, you may pick up a new customer.
5.  Are they specifically asking your business for a donation, or are they just walking up and down the street?  This is a little more difficult, but the very thing that makes asking for donations easy in a downtown environment also makes shopping easy in a downtown environment- You can hit a lot of businesses very quickly due to the dense nature of a downtown.  Again, use the standards set above in the previous four points, but if someone is just “hitting everyone up” without thinking about how the ask could positively impact the business they are asking,
6.  Do they have a net positive impact on the community (and your business)?  Does the organization supportlocal businesses and causes?  Do the actions of the organization make a measurable and sustainable difference in the community?  Do they treat the symptoms of a problem, or do they solve for core underlying issues?  When the organization purchases things, do they buy local?
Most of the small businesses we work with wish they could give to everyone all the time.  On average, small businesses donate more than twice as much, per dollars sold, than chains.  However, people need to understand that the ability to donate is tied directly to profitability.  Supporting local businesses has a variety of positive impacts, and one of them is the ability to increase charitable contributions.  So, if you are asking a business for donations this holiday season (or at any time) please consider the list above.  
The relationship between community, non-profits and the business world is symbiotic and should be reciprocal.  Giving is good, and most local businesses prioritize giving back to the community.  Targeted giving can help our community move in a sustainable positive direction.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.