Increasing donations for your non-profit organization

A jar that says "donations welcome" with money in it.
From Flickr: HowardLake

Especially in this challenged economy, a lot of non-profits are struggling to increase donations to the organization to cover rising costs and increased responsibilities. Many local non-profits I know are struggling and I feel for them. It’s tough out there for everyone and there is more and more competition for every donation dollar available. So, how can you increase donations for your non-profit organization? By asking a few friends and family to become “secret shoppers” by donating something to your organization and documenting how easy or hard it really was.

Story 1: Donating Clothes

A little over a month ago, a couple of trash bags were dropped off at my front porch with a note asking me to fill them with unwanted clothes and put the bags back on my porch the following Sunday. According to the note, the bags would be picked up and taken to a designated charity. “Perfect!”, I thought, “I need to clean out my closets anyway.” So, I filled those bags to the brim with clothes I didn’t want anymore and set them out Friday evening.

Saturday came and went, and the bags were still there. Sunday came and went, and the bags were still there. “No problem, they just missed me” I thought, “I’ll just drop them off at the non-profit myself.” So, I loaded the bags in my trunk and promptly forgot about them. About two weeks later I found them, so I took a late lunch to drop them off. I pulled up to the organization at 1 pm. That’s when I learned from a sign at the door, that the organization only accepts donations three days a week and Wednesday wasn’t one of them.

So, the bags came home in my trunk again. The problem was, I’d already forgotten the crazy days/hours that the non-profit DID accept donations. So, I went to their website and spent a good 10 minutes trying to find out where on their website it mentioned donations of goods. I found it, but no hours were listed. At that point, I grabbed my keys, went to another organization that I knew accepted donations every day of the week, and donated the clothes to them instead.

Lessons from Story 1:

  • If you are going to pick up donations, make sure you do.
  • Make sure your hours are convenient for your donors (the same goes for businesses too).
  • List hours and days that you accept donations on your website (and on your voice mail too).

Story 2: Donating a cell phone

I have an old cell phone that I would like to get rid of. At the beginning of November, I received a solicitation letter from an organization whose mission I’m passionate about and one of the things they were asking for was cell phone donations. Again, perfect!

So, I got on the organization’s website to find out how I could donate the phone (it’s not a place you can just walk in to). There were two forms of contact they listed. The first one was an online form to fill out so someone could contact you. The second was to call them. Considering it was about 9 pm, the online form looked like a better option, so I filled it out with a message and two forms of contact and submitted it. Two days went by and, nothing. No phone call, no email.”Ok,” I thought, “I’ll just call them.” So, I got on their website, found their phone number, and called.

I called around 2:30 pm on Friday, well within most business and organization hours, but the phone just kept ringing and ringing. Finally, it went to an automated system that told me to press zero for the operator. I did and the phone started ringing on and on again for a few minutes. then, it said no operator was unavailable and asked me to dial another extension. The problem was, I didn’t know any other extensions for the business, so I hung up and called back again to get back to the main menu. This time, I pressed the number for the Executive Director. Again, ringing then voice mail. Her voice mail informed me that she was out of the office November 16 and 17. Good to know, but it was mid-December and her voice mail was still talking about November.

As a final ditch effort, I looked at their website again to see if there was an email for another staff member or contacts for their board members. I found a board and staff page that talked about how dedicated they were to the organization, but gave no names or contacts for me to use.

Lessons from Story 2:

  • When you send out a solicitation for a particular item, give the person any easy way to donate the item.
  • If you have an online form for people to use to contact you, follow-up with those daily If the person that usually does it is on vacation, make sure someone else is covering for them.
  • Make sure your phone system is easy to use and up-to date.
  • List multiple contacts on your website.

Hopefully by now you are mumbling, “Neither of those donations should have been that hard,” and, if so, you are correct. Both should have been very easy donations to make, but the organizations made it difficult to the point that I donated the clothes somewhere else and the cell phone is still sitting here. But, my real point is, your organization may have similar problems that are preventing you from increasing donations and, if so, you need to find out what they are and fix them. So, grab a few friends, convince them to donate to your organization in a variety of ways, and ask them to document what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. Take those, and work with them to make your non-profit more donor-friendly.

For further reading, visit:

Small business marketing strategies for “Small Business Saturday”

Ten marketing and pr lessons from FailBlog (and why it’s my favorite blog)

Effective Marketing using the Broken Windows Theory

Do you REALLY want to hear from your customers?

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