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Recession May Encourage More Creative Donations to Nonprofits

Lori Halley 06 March 2009 4 comments

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 efficiency.  

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?

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 06 March 2009 at 10:10 AM


  • John Haydon said:

    Friday, 06 March 2009 at 4:59 AM


    I think with the recession we will see much more cause marketing happen. This is where corporations build good cause elements into their sales and products (Paul Newman's products, for example).

    There are three reasons for this:

    1) Companies need to differential themselves even more when consumers are spending less. Point-of-sale cause marketing is most free to the business.

    2) Because consumers have less money to give, they will be more likely to choose purchases that also have a charity element.

    3) The "noise" of giving to non-profits is getting louder on social media sites. At some point, people will get "cause fatigue" start to tune out. They will look for other ways to give through purchases that are already part of their daily lives.


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Friday, 06 March 2009 at 4:53 PM

    Thought-provoking, John - especially your third point, about "cause fatigue" : a real concern that's even more so when supporting a cause takes an extra step in a busy day, yes? You've sent me searching for recent research on cause marketing, in the course of which I came across this interesting piece from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (November 2008) http://www.afpnet.org/ka/ka-3.cfm?content_item_id=24701&folder_id=2345 - sounds like you're very much on track!

  • Debra Quartermain said:

    Saturday, 07 March 2009 at 5:06 AM

    The more we can incorporate generosity into our daily lives easily in these times works for people. If the companies and brands we support are aligned with good causes then it strengthens customer loyalty and supports a worthwhile cause. Therefore generosity is attained at both a personal and global level.

    With the economic times we are impacted by more personal involvment as friends lose homes, jobs and it is bringing people together in creative ways to help each other. Organizing cooking nights for friends who have lost jobs, providing all the ingredients and having a supportive evening of cooking meals for the week. Every action and its energy makes a difference, we all can make a difference and that is what can't be lost but must be continually strengthened. If companies continue to recognize that allowing their individual consumers to feel they are making a difference then it will work.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Saturday, 07 March 2009 at 2:57 PM

    Debra, thanks for bringing the dual perspective of both consumer and business person -- and a reminder of the cumulative value of many small actions, not just to the cause and direct supporter but to the company and contributing consumer.

    I think it's important, too, to recognize that the recession will not last forever -- so nonprofits need to keep their profile in the public eye and their supporters engaged in some way (even if not financially) so they'll be in position to move ahead when the economy does start to turn around.

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