When corporate donors and sponsors are forced by a recession to rein
in their spending, charitable donations can take a hard hit. Yet the
motivations for giving have not changed. Business owners still want to
help a good cause, as well as get a tax benefit and present their
companies as good corporate citizens.
With companies still willing — but perhaps not able— to continue their financial support of nonprofits at pre-recession levels, nonprofits may be compelled to find new ways to define "donation."
"Do you think the recession will encourage creative donations to charity?"
Abigail Beal posed this question on LinkedIn.com a few weeks ago, prompted by a Wall Street Journal article about why fliers can’t donate unused tickets
to charity. (Alaska Airlines is one notable exception, according to the
WSJ article.) But what’s inspiring to Abigail is those companies that
do permit the donation of tickets — with all-round benefits, as the Journal points out:
Other businesses have realized that ticket donation can be
beneficial both to customers and to charities. Sports teams, for
example, often make it easy for holders of season tickets to donate
tickets they won’t use to local groups. The benefits: Low-income
children get to attend a game; season-ticket holders get a tax
deduction, and the teams get to build goodwill in the community.
There’s a long tradition of in-kind donations like this, where
unsold products or excess inventory is passed along to charities in
need — grocery stores often give food to community kitchens, for
example — but what happens if businesses and nonprofits look beyond
both money and products for ways to donate?
What might a company have or do, as a normal part of its operation, that could be shared with a nonprofit?
Yesterday’s mail brought a newsletter from my insurance company,
most of which was filled with articles from various nonprofits who are
clients of that company. It seems like a clear win-win: the insurance
company reinforces its reputation as a good corporate citizen, and
saves on staff time in preparing the newsletter, while the nonprofits
get free publicity — effectively, a mail-out for which they didn’t have
to pay either printing or postage costs, to an audience they might not
otherwise have easily reached.
A construction company shares its paid-for booth at a home renovation
trade show with an environmental group that works to educate consumers on energy
A shopping mall opens its doors an hour early,
several days a week, so members of a seniors fitness club can walk the
concourse in warmth and safety, when winter weather prevents them from
taking their exercise outdoors — and lets a variety of community groups hold their meetings in its under-used board room.
A trucking company experiencing a slowdown in business offers use of its
empty warehouse space to a church congregation for collecting clothing and household goods for
low-income families, as well as the use of a truck that would otherwise be sitting idle.
None of these are earth-shakingly original donations, perhaps, but
they are evidence that a mutually beneficial partnership between business
and nonprofits can take many forms — far beyond signing a check or donating merchandise.
As noted in that Wall Street Journal article,
In its last fiscal year, Make-A-Wish spent $31.8 million on airfare
for families receiving wishes, spokesman Brent Goodrich said. About 65%
of the "wishes" granted to families involve travel.
Airline customers donated millions of frequent-flier miles to
Make-A-Wish, resulting in about $3.6 million worth of tickets for 880
families. But the organization had to purchase tickets for 7,790 other wishes granted.
Whether the airline tickets were bought with money contributions or through the donation of Air Miles, the outcome was the same for the families served. In theory, any item on a nonprofit's expense
sheet has the potential to be met by unconventional donations.
At the LinkedIn.com discussion, Trevor Wichmann contributed this thought:
In addition to maintaining consumer mindshare, community
involvement can help employee morale as, for a lot of us, it’s nice to
be part of an organization that cares. This may also provide
opportunities for creative ideas to incubate from the bottom up. Just
like cost-cutting measures, brilliant ideas often come during
challenging times from the most unlikely sources.
So I’ll throw out the questions to you —
Do you think that the recession will prompt people — and
especially businesses — to look beyond the checkbook and find more
creative ways to support nonprofits?
What examples of creative donations have you noticed?