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Organizations Hitting You Up for Donations? Here’s What to Weigh

Be careful of getting yourself stuck donating to every medical benefit, fundraiser and poker run.

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IT HAPPENS AT LEAST TWICE a year in my store: They enter, confused or looking a bit lost. They head to the front desk and timidly take out a sheet of paper and hand it to the first employee they see.

It’s the dreaded donation/advertising letter.

Whether it’s for a high school yearbook, a benefit to raise money for medical expenses, or a school fundraiser, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been approached by students, their parents, volunteers, a friend’s cousin’s wife’s best friend, a customer I haven’t seen in four years … you get the picture.

I feel a knot in my stomach every time. Do I say yes? Do I say no? Am I going to offend a customer? Where do I draw the line?

I’m all about alternate forms of advertising, and over the years, I’ve tried it all … the cover of the local county map, high school football schedules, even handheld fans for sporting events (never again on that one).

What works and what doesn’t? It depends on where your store is located and who your target audience is. My experience might be different from yours, but learn who you will be advertising to, and it will help you make the right decision.

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For example, our retail store and separate doggie day care are both located in a small town of around 40,000. We get our fair share of yearbook ad requests, and I try to hit at least the two biggest. Depending on the price, I’m usually open to at least a half page ad. I try to be creative by putting both businesses in the same ad.

By advertising in the yearbook, I’m hoping that parents still read those (mine did!) and look at the ads in the back. If you are considering yearbook advertising, make sure your ad is clear, neat, to the point, and more important, contains a photo of a dog or cat. That’s the best way to get people’s attention.

I’m much more likely to say no now to athletic schedules and magnets than I used to be. The paper schedules are thrown away as soon as the season is over, if not before. The magnets might have more staying power … at least for that year … but after that, they aren’t as effective. Use your best judgment on these.

When it comes to benefits, poker runs, fundraisers and so on, you might find them to be more troublesome than beneficial.

I donate to the local private school auctions if a representative actually comes in and asks. A phone call isn’t enough for me. Make them work for it! Chances are, the person asking for the donation is a customer, so I do have some obligation already. What I have found, however, is that if you pick the right items, your donation will be sought after at these events. I’ve had customers tell me they look for my items at these auctions because they know there will be a free self-service dog wash coupon, a bag of treats and a small gift card. To me, that’s a win!

If someone who isn’t a customer bids on and wins the item — and then comes in — that’s a win for both of us. They get to see how awesome we are, and we get a new customer … just for donating to a good cause!

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But, not all donations bring new customers. Be careful of getting yourself stuck donating to every medical benefit, fundraiser and poker run. If you feel obligated, give something small, like a dog wash coupon or a small gift card. Services are always easier to donate than goods. Or, check with your manufacturer or distributor reps about bags of treats or small toys.

One final piece of advice: Document everything you donate and when. If the entity is nonprofit, it should supply you with a tax letter to give to your accountant. I also recommend asking your accountant about what you can write off as a donation. In my state, I can donate anything (goods or services), but I am supposed to pay tax on any goods I donate. That’s why I hit up my vendors for free stuff and donate my own services like the washes or gift cards. Plus, those services and cards are more easily written off on taxes.

Stacy Busch-Heisserer owns Busch Pet Products, a holistic pet supply store, and recently opened Deer Creek Doggie Day Camp. She is currently working on a clinical pet nutrition certification through the Academy of Natural Health Sciences. Email her at stacyb@buschpetproducts.com.

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