It’s finally spring here, and with that comes two things: fundraisers for just about every cause under the sun, and folks asking for donations. During this season of benefits, if our store is typical of all indies, bookstores get asked to give something just about every day. This year has found me on the other side of the counter asking for donations as I’m newly on the board of the Pride Center of Vermont and our benefit is in May. As I’ve approached businesses for donations I’ve noticed several things and thought I’d share.
Most businesses are happy to contribute to a cause of good customers. Without question, I will always say yes if a regular customer comes in seeking a donation. I had great luck seeking auction items for the Pride Center benefit by going to the places I frequent, or the businesses I work with on a regular basis. The key to this working is to not ask for too many things a year. Some folks are on several boards or are very active in the local school and this can sometimes mean they ask for lots of donations throughout the year. At some point I just have to say no to repeated requests from the same person.
It’s helpful to ask for a donation after you’ve actually bought something at the store. By doing this, you show good faith and an understanding that no store is made of money, and by shopping you’re supporting the store. There is nothing more galling than someone who comes in and browses and says, “Gosh, I just love your store. I’m from the charity three counties away and I was wondering if…” I always get the person’s name and while I’m contemplating their request, I look them up and see if they’ve ever shopped at the store. If they haven’t and their cause is too far away to get anyone to actually use the gift certificate, then I say no.
I hate to say this out loud, but not all causes are created equal. Most bookstores will give to anything book, child or family oriented. We’re also suckers for animals, but cannot give to every rescue organization in the state. We’re big on local causes and supporting farmers. We don’t give to political parties as a store. We try to keep the store apolitical and give privately. One thing I tend to say no to a regular basis are fundraisers for private school trips to places like Belize or Costa Rica. Given the choice, I’d always rather for something that benefits more people.
I think it’s a good idea to have kids ask for things at stores. It’s good for them to see who the people are who care about their cause. And, honestly, a bunch of third graders working through their nerves to ask for a donation for the school down the street is adorable. They bravely come up to me, each taking a turn reading their script in the lopsided handwriting of eight-year-olds, “We are from the Shelburne Community School.” At this point one of the kids is always shouting, as if that volume level determines the size of the donation. Sometimes, I let them finish, sometimes, if I have a headache or am busy, I will just say, “How’s a $30 gift card?”
If a store gave to your cause last year, please acknowledge that when you ask for something the following year. We know who we gave to and how much, so should you. Sometimes we have to say no. Please don’t take it personally. It is generally a reflection of several things: we have maxxed out on our giving for the month you’re asking, your cause is too far away, your cause doesn’t really fit the mission of the bookstore, or you want books and we only want to give a gift certificate. Here’s why everyone gives gift certificates: we want people, hopefully, new people, to have a reason to come to the store.
Lastly, even if the donation isn’t as big as you were hoping, don’t act disappointed in front of us. We do the best we can. And if your donation is smaller than you’d like, it’s probably because we’re actually trying to not say no.