Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at news-sentinel.com.
Q.: Karen, I am a small retail business owner and get asked, what seems to be weekly, for monetary donations or donations in items from our store. If I gave something every time I got asked, we'd go broke. How can we gracefully say no without seeming like we are not supportive of local nonprofit organizations?
A.: The charity that people choose to support is often based on their own personal experience with, or their loyalty to, an organization. Political views, alma maters, family and personal health issues and many other things play into the decision as to what group one supports.
All of those requests can make one dizzy and, yes, sometimes annoyed when there is a constant barrage for money and or items. So, set a budget and stick to it as far as what you can afford to donate.
When people ask and you have reached your limit, consider giving to them in the next year. Let them know when you set your budget. And take requests in writing and ask them to check back with you. You might also consider supporting them in another way that is not as costly, maybe donating your services or offering something from your sale shelf. This lets them know that you think their cause is worthy.
Nonprofit organizations need to pay attention to how and whom they ask for donations. In order to be perceived as worthy, and grateful, for the donations received, a little “nonprofit” etiquette may be needed as you ask for support:
•Don't expect everything for nothing. Being a nonprofit organization doesn't mean you get everything for free. Nonprofit employees don't expect to work for nothing, and you shouldn't expect others to either. Get over any sense of entitlement.
•Consider getting fees and services underwritten. Most people will offer a discount to nonprofit organizations, but for small businesses to do everything for free is a dangerous precedent for them to set because they can't afford it. Retailers lose money after a certain point when discounting merchandise. So to expect everything at no cost is unrealistic, too.
•Support the businesses that support you. If you and your staff are constantly asking and never giving back, you will quickly become someone to avoid. This also includes the people who sit on your board and constantly ask for money, favors or merchandise and never support the local businesses who generously give.
•Acknowledge every donation, regardless of the size or value. To have people donate money, items and/or time and not to express thanks is a huge faux pas.
•Train your staff in professional courtesy skills. This is especially true if they are doing any kind of entertaining while fundraising. Staff members should be able to meet and greet the public with self-confidence, network effectively and manage a formal dining situation with poise.
•Know your community. If you are the new person who has been hired from out of town, you should be doing your homework on the who's who in the community. And you should know what else is going on in the new city you now call home.
•Get your requests in early. Most companies plan their budgets for charity at certain times of the year. It may be important for you to time your requests from the large corporations, especially if the request is for a large sum.
•Value your volunteers. The people who volunteer their time for your organization should be treated with the same respect as your paid employees. Actually, maybe more. Most nonprofits couldn't function without their volunteers.
So, ask graciously, give back and be grateful to those who make your organization a success. It will come back to you in kind.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email email@example.com, and we’ll forward it to her.