You're desperate. You're planning a fundraising event but don't have the funds to book a venue or a caterer. So what do you do?
First, breathe! Then, start thinking about options for support in a new way. The truth is, often your problem is actually an opportunity since you'd be amazed at how much easier it is to score in-kind support instead of cash contributions. Yet whether you secure a gift or eliminate an expense from your budget, both benefit your work equally.
Success with in-kind fundraising is all about how you ask. So how do you go about enlisting this support?
First off, remember that the most successful asks are a two-way transaction. You give to get. So before approaching anyone, take time to develop and refine your pitch. You'll always be more effective if you begin with a clear ask and a compelling story to share. And remember in some form to speak to what's in it for the prospect, i.e., how you can help them instead of just focusing on things the other way around.
Let's say you're planning an event celebrating your volunteers and need to feed 100 attendees. Ideally, you'd identify restaurants within a few blocks of your venue and prioritize the ones who would most benefit from the visibility your event will provide. Let's say the top option is a new restaurant just across the street. Your first step should be going in and speaking with the owner or manager. After you introduce yourself and your cause, and likely share some compliments about how much you admire the restaurant and menu (never be afraid of appropriate flattery!), you'd make your pitch along the lines of:
"I know you are new to the neighborhood and are trying to build awareness. Our event will bring together over a hundred key influencers from this neighborhood and other parts of the city just across the street next month. If you contribute two large platters of appetizers, we'd gladly promote your restaurant by giving all our attendees your business cards and setting up table cards to recognize your generosity. In fact, if you can provide four platters and be the exclusive food provider for the event, we can add you to the sponsor page in our program and on our website. Do you have a coupon or something special we could include?"
Remember it's not an ask if it doesn't end in a question mark... and a pause. So smile, look positive, and don't say another word. You've made your ask, now give your potential new partner time to respond. Let silence be your friend for a minute or two. Your confidence will make it easier for you to get the answer you need.
Here are the potential answers and a sample response to each:
Congrats, they've accepted and you're on your way. Thank them, provide clear information about next steps, and be sure to share those steps in writing over the next two days, i.e.,
"So pleased you are supporting our event by providing four platters of appetizers. We will pick up the platters on June 1 at 3pm. Please email me your logo and we'll add it to our event materials ASAP."
And make sure to stick to your timelines. Nothing ruins a new relationship faster than being unreliable.
Receive a "no" with understanding and a grateful smile--keep this door open for another ask, another day. And when done right, it should always be comfortable for someone to say no to an ask.
"Thanks so much for your consideration and sorry to hear it's not a fit this year. As suggested, we'll reach out again with more advance notice prior to our next event. I hope you and your team will be able to join us and in the meantime we invite you to learn more and sign up here. In fact, if you're interested in getting to know us better, we'd be happy to have you join us at the event as a free guest."
And don't stop at a single no. Make sure you reach out with new, appropriate requests at least three more times. Your positive and consistent outreach will pay off.
3. More questions
Questions are a wonderful response since they demonstrate interest. Focus on what adds value to your potential partner when you respond, and be sure to include anything you can do (within reason) to help them to say "Yes."
Whatever the response, thank them sincerely. No matter the answer, the companies you contact should have an increased level of trust based upon how you make your ask.
And of course, if they do say yes, don't forget that a hearty "Thank you" after the event sets you up for a successful second ask. Make it a priority to share the results of the event with all your supporters and be sure to highlight the ways their contribution added value (pictures always help). Call or email with your follow-ups no more than three days after an event; no one enjoys stale news or an overdue thank you.
Looking for something more than a platter or two? The same basic guidelines will work for any in-kind request. Here are a few starting points:
Seeking prizes for an event or auction offerings?
Start by thinking about who stands to benefit most from visibility with your attendees. If your focus is on photography, look for companies that offer supplies, goods, or services to that audience of pros and hobbyists.
Need decorations for your event?
Start with the above suggestions to refine your list. Often florists will loan large vases and offer older or unsold product. You can also look for loans of large plants. Just make sure whatever you borrow is returned promptly and in perfect condition--this makes it more likely you'll get a yes next time.
Looking for office or storage space?
This is not impossible if you're flexible. Company-owned buildings often have vacant space, especially when they're working with commercial real estate agents that need to achieve a certain occupancy level, so find the office manager and just ask!
Score direct services like accounting, tax prep, or marketing support?
Personal connections are critical here. Reach out to family, volunteers, and board members for intros to people who provide the services you need.
Searching for temporary space for large projects or events?
Try contacting local commercial real estate agents. See a building up for lease? Call and offer to promote the vacancy to your database in exchange for using the space! Many large companies also offer their meeting facilities or reception halls for nonprofit use; contact their CSR or HR department to help them achieve their public service goals.
Recommended Reading: Need more ideas on making an in-kind ask? There are many great resources here on Blue Avocado, plus I recommend starting with the book Nonprofit Fundraising 101 as well as the Classy.org website, which brings together a wide array of useful blogs on the same topic. One in particular you'll find helpful for choosing the perfect phrasing is the article, "These 5 Words."
My punchline is this: moving beyond traditional fundraising and embracing in-kind solicitation enables you to supplement your budget in meaningful ways, create stronger, lasting mutual relationships, and expand your number of supporters. Find ways to help your in-kind partners while they help you and you'll find a winning solution.
Gayle Samuelson Carpentier is the Chief Business Development Officer at TechSoup. Upon joining the TechSoup Global in 2001 she developed the strategic structure of its product philanthropy service. In her global role, Ms. Carpentier works with all sections of TechSoup to grow and maintain the unique focus of direct services and benefits to the nonprofit and civil society sector.
Ms. Carpentier has also served the community through more than her professional life. She currently serves on the national board of NTEN and is a sought after strategic consultant to innovative social entrepreneurial companies as well as multiple nonprofit organizations across the country seeking sustainability and market advice and direction. In addition, she has continued writing about nonprofits, technology, and her unique spin on business development in her own blog and for other industry publications and sites and welcomes inquiries for future contributions.