Business / Business Tips / Women and Money

All Out of FREE?

How to “Give Smart” During the Holidays and Beyond by Heidi Richards Mooney

GivingThere is no time more profoundly important to give than during the “season of giving” ~  The Holidays. And yet, for many companies, it can be the most difficult time to give. We are busy acknowledging our staff, our vendors and our clients often with gifts of products and services. And yet, there is nothing most of us want more than to be able to give to all the wonderful organizations that do such good throughout the year. I’m talking about those charities, non-profits and other service oriented groups that depend on the generosity of companies like yours and mine to survive.

In fact, in my retail florist there was seldom a day that went by without one person or organization calling requesting we support their cause either by sponsoring their event (with money), taking out an ad, or donating goods and services. My staff and I realized a long time ago that if we didn’t come up with some sort of plan to justify those contributions we want to make and to gently deny those we are unable to, there would be no profits at the end of the month, let alone the end of the year.

I was telling one of my friends that some days the phone rings more often for requests than for orders. When I shared this with a colleague, he suggested I start telling everyone who called that “I’m all out of FREE”  instead! That’s when I decided to come up with a charitable giving/sponsorship plan for my companies.

Having a plan is as important with your charitable contributions as it is with all aspects of running your business. In fact, it can be a substantial outlay of money, time and product in your marketing plan which means it is important to decide what to give, when to give, how to give and to whom. And yes, unplanned requests will come up from time to time – more often than you have put in your plan. With a plan you can account for those as well.

Create Your Giving Guidelines

The first thing you need to do is to establish guidelines for those organizations you want to contribute to. Your guidelines can include the number of organizations you can help, the amount of money you can contribute and the type of help you can offer (goods and/ or services). This will help you decide if the organization making the request falls within your own “giving” parameters.

The next thing to decide is how you will allocate those contributions. Will it be on a firstcome, first-served basis, will priority be given to your client base?
Will it be only those causes that matter to you and turn down all others?

Create a Donation Form

In 1996 we created and began using a donation request form. We keep this form handy to be faxed, emailed or handed to anyone who makes a request.
On that form we ask things like: What type of support/contribution do you need? (In kind, money, advertising,
volunteering, help spreading the word). Is the contribution tax deductible and if so, what percentage?

Are you a current customer/client of my company?

How will my company be recognized for the contribution?

Does my company have access to the list of participants (for events)?

How will my contribution be used?

By what date do you need the contribution?

Tip: If you are unable to give money to the cause, but want to contribute your product or service, ask the organization what their needs are. I have found it sometimes does not occur to the organization to ask for a silent auction item, they are only thinking about ad space or sponsorship. Most organizations are very happy for those companies that will give something, rather than nothing at all.

Establish Your Giving Timeline

One of the things on our form is a time frame for requests. In other words, when someone asks for any kind of contribution we ask by what date will they need it. Our criteria is the request must be made at least 90 days prior to their event. This has really helped us to stay on budget and focus on those requests we have already granted. By following our plan we are able to use our discretion allowing us to occasionally grant smaller in-kind donations on the spot, but this system has helped us to cut down on those considerably as well.

Having a Donation Request Form and Timeline helps us to justify all the times we have to say no and most people are very understanding, especially when they fill out the form and see our criteria in black and white. We tell them to get their requests in earlier next year and we will do our best to oblige.

Getting Your Staff Involved

Supporting causes is a great way to build a loyal staff. Your colleagues and coworkers will appreciate the opportunity to be of service to a worthy cause. Especially when they can do so on company time. That is not to say, they won’t want to get involved on their own time, however making it a part of their work
routine will give them greater job satisfaction and helps to keep employees around longer.

Your Return on Investment

While each of us likes to think that we do things out of the goodness of our hearts, it is certainly an added bonus when we get recognition for our efforts.

Here are a couple of ideas you can use to maximize your “exposure” for you time, talent and treasure: Send a media release announcing your support of the cause. I don’t recommend this for smaller contributions, however if you are underwriting an event, or providing a substantial donation of goods and services it is
certainly acceptable.

Ask the organization what you will receive in terms of media exposure for your contribution. Will you be listed as a sponsor in their print and online media such as invitations, brochures, website, signage? If it is an event, will you receive any complimentary tickets or passes to attend? I have used many event passes to invite clients, customers and potential customers. Are you allowed to put your business card or other marketing materials on the donation? With flowers, plants and gift basket donations, we include a business card and an enclosure card that says Compliments of Eden Florist.

If you receive a list of attendees (with contact information) use this list as a follow-up tool. You can send a postcard to the attendees thanking them for
their support of the cause (a subtle way to introduce your company). You can send them a small gift representative of your company, or you can call them
up and thank them.

Measure your Success

A survey by Performance Research found that of the 150 marketers surveyed, 54% said their ROI increased when they had a plan in place. Of the 46 remaining 44% said they either did not measure the ROI or saw no change. Only 2% stated a decline in ROI when they started measuring. See how measuring your success can
help you with your future “Giving” plans.

When You Give Smart – you will have more FREE: time, recognition and money at the end of the month. Donations are or should be a part of every person’s business plan, and it’s important to GIVE SMART.  Making the most of your contributions can help you to stand out in your community and in the eyes of your employees. Giving should be something you are able to do because you can, not because you feel you have to. Having a strategy or plan can help alleviate stress, hurt feelings and shortfalls at the end of the month or year.

©Heidi Richards Mooney – is a Professional Speaker, Small Business Coach, Publisher of WE magazine for women and the Author of 7 books including: “Quirky Marketing ~ 365 Ways to Promote Your Business Using Zany and Non-traditional Holidays.” Grab a free copy of chapter one at:  http://speakingwithspirit.com/quirky-marketing-2009-chapter-1-2/

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