Sometimes, the financial cost of signing a check can hurt even when it supports something worthwhile, like a fundraising race for local trails. In this guide, I’ll help you sort these requests into categories and give you ideas for how to say yes in a way that feels good for everyone and without compromising your time and money. If you’ve wondered “Should I sponsor this event?” or “Why do I pay for this membership every year” then read on.
The “Actually Worth the Marketing Money” Ask
This is a best-case scenario: A community organization run by people you want to support (the local chamber of commerce or bike club, perhaps) is selling ads in an area guide they publish. You can evaluate this cost mostly as a marketing cost. Ask yourself questions like:
- Do your customers read area guides and does the ad placement make sense
- Are they distributed in places where your customer will see them?
- Are they going to reach your customer when it makes sense for them to consider buying from you (after they’ve already arrived in town, for example)
- Am I already listed in something similar, and has that ad been working? Or should I switch to this?
Benefits: Meets both marketing AND community goals (big win)
Risks: Costs actual money. Consider making these ethical marketing choices a bigger part of your marketing spend so you’re prepared for the costs in advance
Action: Buy in and feel great about it
Tip: Since you’re paying real money, make sure to use ALL the perks that come with your purchase by making sure they have your updated business contact info and description, as well as attending in person if it’s an event.
The “Long Term Relationship” Ask
It’s really the people and potential to build relationships that makes this ask compelling, since frankly what they’re offering doesn’t justify the cost. Things that fall into this category might include: annual or recurring fundraising efforts for events, local unrelated organizations whose members may be customers (kids ski club anyone). It’s usually a well known and respected group in the community, and to some extent it’s expected that you contribute, but from a strictly business perspective a financial contribution may not make sense.
Risks: This is an investment in community and you may not see the cash payout
Benefits: You can look neighbors in the eye at the grocery store
Action: Donate your product.
Since the people this effort is going to reach are bit outside your regular customers, you will give a new crowd (or reintroduce the locals) a chance to experience why you’re great. Since these asks are often annual, it’s a regular opportunity that people may even come to expect to see what’s new with your business. You also don’t have to spend your money on something that probably won’t have any solid returns, and you maintain your good relationships with the mechanic and dentist who run the Lions Club.
Tips: Spread some good cross-posting karma by sharing posts about the event or fundraiser you contributed to on your social media accounts. That gives additional value to the organization you are supporting, but as importantly it helps your audience understand how their purchase from you has a positive impact beyond a financial transaction.
The “Worth It Because I’m Human” Ask
These asks don’t make sense financially and can not be predicted to help you get business. It would be a total waste of money except it supports someone in the community whose house burned or you otherwise feel a strong sense of personal obligation to.
Risks: Can’t expect a financial reward
Benefits: Makes you a better person
Action: Donate your time
Fulfill your moral obligation by giving some of your time to the cause in a way that’s helpful without sacrificing your business’s marketing budget. Sure, you can provide your business name if they”re going to publicly thank volunteers, but you’ll know that it’s not the point.
The “Hard No” Ask
Is the cause distasteful, disagreeable, irrelevent, or unimportant? If you’re on the fence, you can always say they should feel free to contact you for the next fundraiser. If you’re still curious, see if you can imagine wanting to spend your own time in support of their cause. If the answer is no, politely do not contribute so you can focus your time and energy on what you know matters to you.
Now you know how to evaluate donation requests and have a plan to responsibly contribute. Enjoy eye contact with your neighbors at the grocery store and happy giving. 😉
PS: If you’re a community organization looking for contributions, always figure out what you are offering to your contributors and make sure they want it!