In today’s article, we’re exploring in-kind donations - what they are, how they might be beneficial for your organization, and how to launch a conversation with your supporters about them. In-kind donations can be a powerful tool to help your nonprofit’s mission, and Grant Cobb, Head of Marketing and Analytics at GivingMail, draws from his experience in donor communications to share his recommendations with us.
My favorite nonprofit is a therapeutic riding farm that works with people with disabilities to support their physical and emotional development through horseback riding and hippotherapy. One memorable day, the program director looked at her clipboard and said to us volunteers, “Can someone go wait down the driveway? We have a donation coming and they’ll need directions.” I headed down the drive to help steer them in, and there I was met with a surprise: the donation was an entire horse!
A family was moving away and was thinking about selling their horse, but then they had a better idea: they would give her to an organization that needed her. Since that day, Monty has provided hundreds of children with joy and comfort in her new role as a therapy horse.
The point of this story? Monty was an in-kind donation. In-kind donations are effective, if sometimes unconventional, sources of support for nonprofits. In this article, we are going to explore ways that your organization can improve its in-kind donation requests to secure the items or services that support its mission.
What are in-kind donations?
An in-kind donation is a non-cash resource given to a nonprofit organization. This can include anything from volunteer time and expertise (think: lawyers working pro bono) to items like computers, office supplies, children’s toys, or even horses.
While all the best practices that you already know from asking for monetary donations still apply, there are plenty of strategies to use that can level up your in-kind donation requests from good to great. Here are some tips for optimizing your in-kind donation request process from start to finish.
Determine your organization’s specific needs
Before you make your ask, you need to know what you’re asking for. The needs of your organization will vary wildly based on what your mission is. Some places to start are:
Your constituents: If you work in health and human services, you may need things like household furniture, gently used clothing or bedding, toys for children, and nonperishable foods. Or, an animal-focused organization such as a rescue shelter may need crates, leashes, bowls, beds, and toys for their fuzzy friends. Consider your constituents’ unique needs when developing your in-kind donation ask.
Your staff: A nonprofit with an office requires supplies that can often be difficult or expensive to acquire in bulk. You might need meeting tables, desks, chairs, a fridge or microwave, or computers. Think about the products or items that would empower your staff to work more efficiently and effectively.
Your budget: Look at your last fiscal period’s expenses. What did your nonprofit purchase? If you find items that your nonprofit needs regularly or that you run out of more frequently, add those to the list.
Once you have your list, get more specific. Do you need a certain type of computer to run your software? Do your constituents need clothing for a specific age group? This list of items will guide your next step: who to ask.
Identify the right people to ask
Once you know what you need to ask for, you can seek out the appropriate people or organizations to assist you in your search. This step will require some research: you need to understand someone’s capacity, or their ability to make the donation you need, and their affinity, or their willingness to contribute to your cause. Let’s take a closer look at each of these characteristics:
Capacity: If you need computers, it doesn’t make sense to ask an individual donor for 5-10 desktops. In this situation, it would be more reasonable to find a corporation or other larger institution that has a greater capacity to purchase and transport this equipment. You might also seek out a business or educational institution that’s in the middle of upgrading its own equipment and has some desktops to spare.
Affinity: Consider your organization’s mission, and look for individuals and companies whose values align with your own. For example, if your organization provides support for refugees, it makes more sense to seek pro bono work from a lawyer who handles immigration than one who works in property law.
Your organization has an existing community of supporters: your volunteers and donors all have a connection to your cause already. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them to see if they have what you need! For more information on corporate philanthropy and how you might ask corporations for in-kind donations, check out this guide from Double the Donation.
Create a connection to your cause
In your ask, you want to think about what the donor gets out of the exchange. Donor-centric fundraising conversations are nothing new in the philanthropic world, but you have to consider this even more carefully when it comes to in-kind donations.
Think about the following donor statements when you’re planning your ask to make sure you understand what drives your supporters:
“I feel like I am living out my values when I donate to organizations that share those values.”
“I strengthen my company’s culture of generosity when we donate to local organizations.”
“I am more involved in my community when I donate to help those who also live here.”
Based on your potential donor’s background, which one of these will resonate with them the most? How can you incorporate this understanding into your ask?
Make your ask
This step is when you reach out to your supporter and officially ask for your in-kind donation. Think of your ask like a gratitude sandwich. Start with a thank you, because your supporter has already given you their time today, then kick off the conversation about what your organization needs and how this is related to your supporter’s values. Then close with a thank you, no matter how it goes!
Thank your supporter for their time today.
Explain the need that your nonprofit has, whether that’s office supplies or horses.
Ask them outright for what you need. For instance, you might say: “Would you consider donating these furniture items to help unhoused members of our community?”
Mention what you have in common: your mission and values.
Give the donor time to respond or ask questions. Remember, this is a conversation, not a monologue. They might want to know more about why you need these things, or ask if they can give more or less depending on their capacity. Then, no matter if they say yes or no to your ask, don’t forget to always close with a thank-you, either for their time or their in-kind donation.
Thank your donors privately and publicly
The final step in any ask is to thank your donors both privately and publicly. I like to thank someone privately three times:
Immediately after they say yes to donating something;
After the in-kind donation has been received;
A few weeks to a month after the donation has been received.
In step 3, consider including a picture of how their donation is impacting the lives of your staffers or constituents. At my beloved farm, we still send photos of Monty during lessons to her old family! In addition to the individual thank-yous, include the donor’s name (with their permission!) when you highlight their gift on your social media, in your newsletters, or on your website. The donor will feel recognized and appreciated by your organization, which can lead to their ongoing support in future fundraising endeavors.
Asking for in-kind donations doesn’t have to be an intimidating process: in fact, it can even be a way to build stronger relationships with your supporters and make new advocates for your organization. Go forth with your new knowledge and secure the donations that your nonprofit needs! For more fundraising tips, check out TechSoup Canada’s Fundraising for Nonprofits course track.