Getting a donation is one thing, but keeping those donors coming back is something else entirely. Here’s what you can do to turn those one-time donors into long-term benefactors:
Keep Service Strong
When you’re dealing with products, making sure the donation process goes smoothly helps encourage companies to continue to donate. Did you make it easy for the donor to ship their products to you, did you accept and account for those products in a timely fashion, did you promptly send out promised tax letters recognizing the donation? All those questions have to have positive responses—not just for the first donation, but for every donation. In the donor’s eyes, you’re only as good as their last interaction with you.
Offer Trial Donations
For potential donors, giving them the opportunity to get their feet wet can be all that’s needed to reel them in. If they have two truckloads of products to donate, but are unsure if they want to commit the entire inventory to an unfamiliar group, suggesting a “trial donation” can help. Have them donate a small quantity, maybe just a pallet full of their products. If that donation goes smoothly, follow up to see if they’re now comfortable making a larger donation.
Get Customer Feedback
To stay on top of how your nonprofit is doing, consider sending out surveys to clients asking about how the entire process went for them. Make sure the survey is complete, yet not too lengthy. The longer the survey, the less likely you’ll be to get a response. Even so, don’t expect huge returns. Ten percent or so is probably typical. Make sure someone regularly reviews the surveys and addresses systemic problems or issues specific to certain donors. You can also use the surveys as a bit of good will. Ask your donors if they want to piggy back on your public relations efforts, offering them the chance to tout their own donations in your press releases and other promotional materials.
Make Communication Count
Once a company has made a donation, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. That means honoring how and how often a company wants to be contacted. Some companies want to communicate strictly by email. But if you have a choice, phone contact is the better option, with occasional in-person meetings to really help develop positive relationships.
Call Just Enough
When soliciting donations, you have to walk a fine line between keeping your organization in a company’s thoughts and becoming a pest. So how often do you call? It’s best to set up those parameters up front. When you’re first looking for product donations, ask how often companies take inventory or look to move excess product out of their warehouses. Is it on a quarterly basis, every six months? Find out, and time calls around then, when they are more likely to have items to donate.
Get Past the Gatekeepers
If you make a call and a company has nothing to donate, then ask if you can call back in six months or some other set amount of time. If they say yes, then you already have a foot partway in the door. This is especially valuable with companies that have “gatekeepers.” When you are able to tell the gatekeeper that, “Joe asked me to call back,” you’re more likely to have your call go through.
Keeping in touch by phone and building a personal relationship with someone can help you increase your network of donors. Maybe that person will put another department that isn’t under their purview in touch with you when they notice that department has excess product. Or maybe they’ll let you know when they’re moving to another company or being transferred, so you can keep your contact list up to date.
In-person visits are invaluable. If you can, it’s best to avoid limiting yourself to meeting with just one person. When you’re setting up a visit, ask if there is anyone else in the company who might like to join you. That way, a meeting with one person can turn into a meeting with four or five. That not only leaves the door open to more donations, but it keeps you from having to start from square one if the one person you were dealing with leaves the company.
Give Your Donors Value
Don’t assume that what a company values most is the tax benefits it receives. Many companies want to know where their donation went and how it was used. If you can provide that information, do so. It could be the best step you take to turning one-time donors into repeat donors.
Gary C. Smith is the president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources (NAEIR), the oldest and largest gifts-in-kind organization in the country. NAEIR solicits and receives donations of excess inventory from American corporations and distributes the material to a membership base of more than 13,000 charities. It has collected and redistributed over $3 billion worth of new, donated supplies and equipment since its founding. NAEIR members average more than $18,000 worth of free products per year for their organizations. www.NAEIR.org