Recently, we were meeting with a local retail store to discuss how we could partner with them to provide their excess inventory to nonprofits. This discussion prompted us to think about how nonprofits partner with local businesses – especially since many nonprofits like to support their local economy, and businesses like to give back to local causes. However, things are never that simple…..
As many of you know, small retail operations are finding it harder and harder to stay in business. Local mom and pop stores lack of the scale of the large enterprises, who can invest in high quality online experiences and multi-channel optimization. They also lack the volume to negotiate the best prices, so often you find higher prices at your local retail store. In this context, small retail stores are finding it more and more difficult to compete – it’s not uncommon these days to hear about a local business going out of business.
Most nonprofits approach businesses with one of two requests:
- Sponsorship or cash donation
- In-kind donation request
Most companies WANT to help their neighbors and those in need. But they just receive far more requests than they can fulfill. Many store owners are overwhelmed by these requests. So how do you rise above the crowd and successfully partner with your local store? Below are 6 tips to help with this:
Tip #1: Understand where they are coming from
Like nonprofits, small businesses are under-resourced and the owners are often overwhelmed by their day-to-day operational needs. In addition to the competitive environment, the retail environment is also being affected by larger issues like labor shortages in some areas, tariffs, economic uncertainty, and more. These businesses are dealing with a lot, so don’t take it personally if a store takes a while to respond, or perhaps doesn’t respond at all.
Tip #2: Research their donation criteria
When you first approach a local store with a request, ask them if they have any philanthropic goals or donation criteria. Many of them have specific causes (e.g., youth, homelessness, mental health, etc.) and perhaps a geographic requirement (e.g., radius of 5 miles from the store). Understanding their guidelines will determine if you are a good fit for their business. If you are a potential fit, ask if they have a specific application or process that they’d like followed. If you are not a good fit, then simply politely rescind your request.
Tip #3: Tailor your application based on the retailer’s donation criteria
Once you know the donation guidelines of the business, complete your application and make sure you explain how your organization or cause fits into their criteria. Given how busy store owners are, make sure your application is clear, concise, and easy to review – and equally important, find something different or distinctive about your program that sets you apart from the other applicants.
Tip #4: Be creative – find a win-win opportunity
There are many business challenges that you can help with to create a win-win situation for both organizations. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Aged inventory – If you are requesting an in-kind donation, and the business has already given out their allotment for the month, inquire about aged inventory. If you have funds, you may be able to get a great deal on excess inventory. This isn’t as good as getting items donated for free, but it’s the next best thing. It could make the most of the money you have.
- New customer acquisition – The goal here is to help bring new customers to the local business while also helping the nonprofit in some form. A very common example is dining at a local restaurant – and in exchange, the restaurant donates a percent of the expenditures for a day/evening.
- Revenue generation – If you like the quality and selection of products at the local store, you could partner with them to run a drive with their products. This helps you get the supplies you need while also helps the retailer generate additional sales. During the holidays, you’ll see collection barrels for nonprofits at local toy stores – where shoppers can purchase toys to be donated. To make the drives even more effective, the store’s products could be featured in an online donation drive, making it easier for donors who don’t shop at that store to purchase specific items that you need. A donation drive is only one example of how you can partner with a local business. Out of ideas? You can also ask the business owner for their suggestions – they will be much more open to helping you support your cause if you can also help them!
Tip #5: Follow up, but don’t pester
If you haven’t heard back after a few weeks, gently nudge your contact. Send a follow-up email reminder. However, don’t pester the staff with excessive reminders and calls. And as we mentioned above, if they don’t get back to you, don’t take it personally. Many of the businesses make an effort to respond to nonprofit requests, but they do get overwhelmed.
Tip #6: Thank the business for their contribution
If you do receive a donation, remember to cycle back and thank the business for their help – in particular, tell them about the impact their donation made on your organization or program. If you have specific stories of success, include a letter or personal thank you from one of your clients. Donors like to know how specific individuals have benefited from their contribution! Establishing a deeper connection will help with future requests you may make.
Hopefully these tips will be helpful when you approach your next local businesses for a sponsorship or donation. You may need to knock on a lot of doors, and it may take a while to get what you need, but cultivating relationships where both the nonprofit and the business benefit can result in a strong long-term relationship.
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