The Second Best Thing: Product Donations

Photo via USDAgov on Flickr

Nonprofits want cash from businesses. But what they usually get is product. That’s one of the conclusions you can draw from the donations of 105 companies that were tallied by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Of the $12.1 billion donated by these businesses, only about one-third was cash.

All this points to the likelihood that your next donation from a company will come in a box, not an envelope. Here’s how to ensure that product is as welcomed as a check.

First, keep the following in mind:

Go where you are loved. Don’t waste everyone’s time by applying for product donations that aren’t a good match for your organization. If the company only donates school supplies and your nonprofit is a food pantry don’t apply; there’s no point in getting things just because you can get them. You’re just clogging up the process and setting yourself up for disappointment. Also, size the company up quickly. Do they donate products or not? If they don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll be the first organization they’ll give product to. Move on.

Know the guidelines. If the business doesn’t have formal guidelines, you’ll need to talk to someone at the company about their giving guidelines. Ask first if there is someone who handles this area. If not, inquire at the very highest level of the company, which is the president or owner. Always talk to people that have the power to make a decision independent of others.

Persuasion occurs through identification. Explain to the business how your nonprofit’s mission fits with their business mission. If you’re calling on a local soup manufacturer and your nonprofit is a soup kitchen, your request may resonate with the business.

Companies are notoriously cheap on donating cash, but they can be stingy on donating product too. Here’s what to do when they balk on both.

Maybe they’ll sell a product and give you the money. In its Breadstick for Hunger Tour, Italian food chain Fazoli’s visited 22 cities handing out Fazoli’s breadsticks to raise awareness and funds for Feed The Children. As a part of the tour, Fazoli’s created a new flavor of Lemon Ice named Giving Grape Lemon Ice and donated $1 to Feed The Children for every one it sells throughout the summer.

Maybe they’ll donate a piece or portion of a product. If a company can’t or won’t donate a product maybe they can donate a piece or portion of it. For example, Detroit-based Empowerment Plan employs homeless women to make coats for the homeless that can also be used as sleeping bags. To support the effort, General Motors has donated scrap sound-absorption material from its Chevy Malibu and Buick Verano models as insulation.

Maybe you can sell that unwanted product. Is your nonprofit looking for a place to sell collected goods and services? Try the eBay Giving Works program. Once registered, your nonprofit can tap eBay’s millions of users to sell items from which you’ll receive 100 percent of the final sale price.

What are your strategies for convincing companies to donate products? And what do yo do when they don’t?