Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

How To Ask For Donations From Businesses

There are many ways to obtain funding for your nonprofit and its work, whether it’s through the 7 Ways To Fund Your Nonprofit, which included grant funding and product and service sales, fundraising, a Monthly Giving Program, or through regular donation campaigns. However, sometimes your nonprofit may need a little extra help or a little pick me up to get a certain program going or to meet a large need that maybe these funding methods cannot cover completely. This is normally the point where nonprofits consider asking companies and business for donations. But asking for help at the for-profit level can be intimidating and challenging. Below, we have tried to break down the task of asking for those big donations so that your nonprofit can make an informed appeal with confidence. 

Do some recon.

Identify what kinds of businesses and companies your nonprofit will want to approach for donations. Start by taking note of the businesses you have worked with in the past or with whom you are currently involved and have an existing relationship with. Also, make use of the networks within your nonprofit, inquiring if any staff, board members, or volunteers work at or know of a business that would be interested in and willing to contribute to your nonprofit or to your mission. Knowhow Nonprofit also suggests that you consider using LinkedIn to connect with businesses or to discover companies that are already interacting with your nonprofit and who may be interested.

In considering what business and companies to contact, John Smyth of The Guardian recommends approaching them if they have demonstrated an interest in the field that your nonprofit does its work, if they are based in and operate locally and in the same region as your nonprofit, or both.

Create a “master list” of these businesses and divide them among your team, assigning each person to a specific company or business. That person will be in charge of communicating with that specific company or business and establishing a relationship with its people. This will ensure that there will no overlap and that each business and company has the attention and time it deserves.

Look into these companies and businesses.

Like with every big project, after pinpointing what businesses and companies you would like to reach out to, do some research. Do they have a discernable history of giving? How do they make their contributions, through funds, in-kind donations, having their staff volunteer at events? Look into whether they have made donations or other contributions in the past and what causes and nonprofits received them. If possible, try to determine if they are currently supporting any particular nonprofits or causes and if it is on annual or one-time basis.  Clarify these kinds of details in order to get a good idea of a company’s giving personality. Think about  what kinds of ideas, programs, projects, and campaigns that they would be interested in and would be more likely to contribute to, says Smyth.

After completing that part of your initial research, look into their donation process. Some companies have their own system in order to make a donation request, from specific forms to be filler out to informational packets, so studying these procedures and following them will ensure that your nonprofit gets a chance to be heard, states fundraisingIP. Nothing says unprofessional like an inability to follow directions. Additionally, make sure that you communicate with the right department in processing your donation request. Seek out a direct line of communication by working with a specific person within that department.

This means making sure that any materials you send out either via email or direct mail is properly addressed to that specific person or department. Don’t just sent out a donation request to the company in general; the last thing you want is for your request to get passed on from department to department with a lesser chance of reaching its proper destination. This will make the process time consuming and increase the chances of your request getting lost in the folds.  

Your letter of appeal.

Now that you have identified your contact within the company or business and figured what procedures to follow to make your donation request, it is time to write your letter of appeal. Also known as a fundraising letter, this will be you opportunity to introduce your nonprofit to this company or business and make an impression, using the following outline defined for fundraisingIP and The Guardian’s John Smyth:

  • Your background: Give an introductory summary of who are, a bit about your history and how your nonprofit became the organization that it is today.  
  • Your mission: Tell them about your mission and the community or cause you serve. Show them how you work to fulfill that mission by highlighting your current campaigns and programs along with successful events and fundraisers. Only include the highlights.
  • Why you need their help: Answer the questions of why them and why now. Describe the need for that particular company or business’s help. Perhaps you need funding for a program you are trying to launch by helping it get off the ground. Or perhaps you need donations in order to continue doing the work you do or to take it to the next level and do more good. Whatever the reason, spotlight it here and describe how that contribution will be applied to the need your nonprofit is trying to remedy.
  • What they get in return: Aside from your gratitude, emphasize the recognition they could receive from helping your organization.

Make your letter concise and straightforward. Write your letter for someone who does not know anything about your nonprofit. Smyth even suggests letting someone from outside of your nonprofit read your draft in order to see if it has been written clearly, effectively, and appropriately.

Following up.

Give the company or business a call a week or two follow the receipt of your letter. Use this as an opportunity to ask if an informational packet could be sent to supplement your letter, if it is needed, or if an in-person meeting can be arranged. If they ask for an informational packet, treat it the same way as your letter: only include relevant information, such as a track record of your nonprofit’s successful campaigns and programs, annual reports, mentions of your nonprofit in the press or media, etc.

If you have yet to receive a response or a call back after your first inquiry, consider making a visit to the company or business in person. Your behavior will be significant here should you get the chance to talk to the department handling your donation request in person. Express your excitement for the program or campaign that you are asking the company to fund and the possibility of working closely with them, as opposed to “guilting” them for their lack of response.  

However, bear in mind that responses to your letter appeal will vary, says Smyth, depending on the number of companies and businesses you reach out to and if these entities are either big or small. Depending on if you cast your net wide, about half of the companies and businesses you reach out to may respond. Larger companies tend to have a system for working with donation requests and will be more likely to send a response while smaller companies may just neglect your appeal because they would not have the time or resources to pursue it.

Prep.

If you have been able to secure a meeting where you can make a presentation on your appeal, it is time to talk strategy. Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority gives us a few things to keep in mind while preparing for your presentation:

  • Your audience: “Who are you asking?” Who will be attending this presentation: the CEO, CFO, staff, a committee responsible for determining who gets donations? Find out who will be in the audience of your presentation and shape your presentation (such as through the language you use) accordingly.
  • Your team: Who will do the asking? Who will be part of your presentation team? How will the presentation team be divided up among them? Will you have a specific question your audience can direct their questions and concerns to? Assign each person on your team a role they will play during your presentation meeting.
  • Your ask: What are you asking for? Donations, yes, but how much? Will you also ask your audience if they would like to participate in an event or fundraiser? When? How should contribute their time?

After answering these questions and constructing your presentation, practice, practice, practice. Amy Eisenstein recommends that you and your team practice run-throughs of your presentation in order to work out the kinks and get into the flow of things. You can even go so far as to record yourselves if time allows in order to watch your body language and how you move through the presentation. Practice in front of those not involved with the project as well in order to get some constructive criticism and to ensure that your presentation is both crisp and understandable. It will be during these practices that you can gauge how long the meeting may run and how to structure it, expands Marc Koenig of Nonprofit Hub, including how long to make small talk and when to move  into your presentation.

Bear in mind no’s are a part of the process but you should walk into that meeting with a yes in mind and armed with the right attitude. Having a negative attitude going in might end with a no. You have to approach your meeting and your ask with a positive attitude, which will allow you to feel more confident.

Execution.

It’s time to put your appeal in motion. We refer again to Joe Garecht, who gives us a great step by step process in acing your meeting, which we also expand on as we go.

Step #1: Open with pleasantries and small talk. Get a feel for the people in the room. Engaging in small talk puts people at ease and is a way to ensure that the meeting starts off on a good note.

Step #2: Make your introductions. Introduce your presentation team with a small note on the role they play and what they do in your nonprofit.

Step #3: Transition to your appeal. Joan Garry highlights four characteristics of solid appeal where it must be “Inspirational, Credible, Tangible, [and with the inclusion] of a goosebump moment.” A good mix of all of these elements will create a presentation that is entertaining, memorable, and engaging.

  • Credible and Tangible: Draw up your stats and numbers to show concrete proof of the work you do. Show them through visuals and facts why the work you do is so important and how successful you have been in fulfilling your mission so far. Educate your audience about the issues surrounding your mission as opposed to just reciting your Mission Statement and expecting them to just connect with your cause. Communicate how donations (like the one you will be asking later on in the presentation), proper stewardship, and firm leadership helped your nonprofit do its work. Conveying stability in leadership and proper management of funds is extremely important in convincing companies and businesses to donate to your nonprofit, discloses Deanna Ackerman via The Wall Street Journal. This gives them peace of mind, an important aspect in sustaining relationships with donors, which we discuss in greater detail in our article on How To Retain Donors
  • Inspirational with a dash of a “goosebump moment”: After addressing the calculated side of your presentation through stats and numbers, it is time to tap into your audience’s emotions. This is where your storytelling techniques can come in handy. There are many types of stories that you can use in your presentation to communicate urgency and to bring about that “goosebump moment,” one of which is what we have called “The challenge” story. Arguably one of the most engaging stories we have highlighted in our article on the 7 Kinds Of Stories Your Nonprofit Should Tell, it details a Protagonist, a Struggle, a Conflict, and a Triumph. Paint a picture of the need, problem, or conflict you would like to remedy and how the company or business can be part of the solution.  Convey a specific goal; knowing that there is a concrete goal to be reached will make a company or business more inclined to give.  

Step #4: Ask. “Remember to make it a question,” Garecht reminds us. Making a statement about how much your nonprofit needs from this business or company sounds more like a sales pitch and may come across the wrong way. Remember that you are asking for their help, not selling bathroom cleaner through an infomercial.

  • Ask for an exact amount: Put out in plain numbers the amount that you need. This way you will be able to get the amount you actually need and avoid burdening the company or business with the task of figuring that dollar amount, which may end up being less than what you need. Don’t be wishy washy about the amount you ask for either, be realistic in your ask, keeping in mind the company or business’s size and current financial stability. If applicable, also mention how much you were able to secure through other means as well to show that you are doing a lot of the leg work to get the funds you need. “If you can show that a small amount of money will enable a much larger project to go ahead,” advises Smyth, “or will release further funds, say, on a matching basis from another source, this will definitely be an advantage.”
  • Consider asking for other contributions outside of the monetary spectrum, such as volunteers for an upcoming fundraiser, the permission to promote you events around their offices, or through making an in-kind donation, such as supplies.
  • Underline what they can gain from giving you their support, such as positive publicity in the court of public opinion, tax advantages, and public acknowledgement through your own networks and channels.

Outcome.

Throughout the entire presentation, you should have already implemented some strategically placed moments of silence in order to let your audience to absorb information or voice some questions as you go. This way, they will be actively participating in the conversation instead of just sitting there trying to absorb the information you’re trying to communicate about your nonprofit and your appeal.

However, this silence is the most important following your ask; give your audience time to process the meeting up to that point and the ask that would have just made. Oftentimes, we feel the pressure to fill any heavy spaces in everyday conversation, the same goes for presentations. You must resist the urge to do so when there is a lull in your presentation or when your audience makes any statements or agreements. Let them be the first to reinitiate the conversation. This silence will be productive for your meeting as it will allow your audience to speak up and let them feel like they can, and are free to, elaborate.

At this point, Amy Eisenstein states, you should be ready for any kind of response that may receive following this silence. There are three kinds of answers: yes, no, and maybe. You should already have a response and plan for following up in place for each of these answers. Be flexible; you and your team may have done all of the research and prep leading up to this moment, but that does not always guarantee a yes.

If you are met with a yes, great! If you are met with a maybe, engage them in conversation about why they may be hesitant, perhaps if you are able to dispel some of the fears or concerns they have about giving to your nonprofit, you may come out with a yes. If you are met with a no, take it gracefully. Avoid dismissing the company or business entirely just because they said no; invite them to participate or contribute in other ways, if possible, and leave the door open for possible donations in the future. Don’t be discouraged if your nonprofit gets passed on. If your initial meeting and interactions with this company or business have been positive, it definitely increases the chances that they will remember you and contribute to your nonprofit at a later time.

Thank Yous and Updates.

No matter the outcome of your meeting, do not forget to say Thank You! Send out the proper thank you letters to those specific people who helped you process your donation request and to those who were in attendance at your presentation meeting. A personal and powerful thank you letter will express your gratitude, tips on which we spotlight in our article on the Best Practices For A Donor-Centric Thank You Letter. Writing these letters are also great ways to update these companies and businesses on the impact their donations and contributions have made to your cause, solidifying the partnership they and your nonprofit now has. 

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Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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