To Give or Not to Give

Josie Leavitt - November 4, 2009

The season for charitable giving (and giving) is upon us. I have been keeping track of the number of times this fall I’ve been asked to make a donation. Every day someone has come in or called at least once a day for the last forty days. Really, every day someone has asked the store for something: a gift card, a book, several books, a whole gift basket, etc., and all for very good causes. 

As a small business owner in a small community, it’s hard to say no to anyone who walks in with a simple request. But as some point you have to say no. Or do you?

I give gift cards almost exclusively. I like the gift card because the auction winner has to come back to the store to redeem their prize and I might gain a new customer. The charities don’t like them as much because very seldom do folks bid more than the face value of the gift card. Although, at some schools, where the kids really love our store, there have been bidding wars. I don’t like giving books because then there’s not necessarily an enticement for the winner to come back to the store. I set an amount a month of what I can afford to give away, assuming all the gift cards get redeemed. Once I reach that number, I try to stick to it unless a very good customer comes in and asks for a donation.  There’s only one situation where I have no real problem saying no and that’s when someone comes to me and they’ve never been to my store and their event seems too far to bring a new customer to the store.

I do love it when the grade school kids come in and make the plea themselves. There is something really touching about a third grader coming and reading something they’ve written off a crumpled piece of paper about how their class is raising money for field trips. I never say no to these little guys. But I do make them work for it, just a little. I don’t let them get away with having their parents explain their mission. I like their speeches, and secretly, I’ll always give more to a kid than to an adult.

When I feel inundated with requests, another thing I do is limit the kind of organization I give to. If it’s not book/child related, I have a much easier time saying no. But it’s so hard to say no to anyone.  I’ve already bought four enormous Christmas wreaths and given away over $100 in gift cards in the last three weeks. Oh, and I’m on the hook for several rolls of gift wrap for another charity.

I’d be very curious to know how other bookstores deal with the requests they get from the many good organizations that seek donations.

7 thoughts on “To Give or Not to Give

  1. Trish Brown

    As a mostly children’s bookstore, we offer a gift certificate for a private storytime for up to 12 children with parental supervision. It often brings new people into the store, and it’s good for a year. We value it at $25, but it often sells for more at silent auctions.

  2. Heather fromLyon Books

    We too are asked neary every day. We give a book and a fancy-looking coupon for $5.00 off a purhase over $10.00. We tuck in our bookmark and any current flyers we have around. We let the “customer” choose any book under $20 (we never give money). We say yes to everyone. The beauty of this plan is that 1. The asker doesn’t have to talk to me, so any member of the staff can take care of it. 2. The asker has to take the time to look around the store. They usually enjoy the process of choosing something to do with the theme of the fundraiser. They often choose something for themselves as well. 3. The person who winds up with book comes in sooner or later use their coupon. 4. We get a lot of gratitude because people see a book from us on every silent auction table in town. 5. It’s affordable for us (I figure our cost is around $10-15 each all told), especially when I think of it as advertising expense and not just money walking out the door. How big of an ad can you buy for $15? I am also eager to hear what works for other stores.

  3. Carol Chittenden

    Love your procedure, Heather! Ours is kind of flat by comparison: we don’t give money. Ever. And we don’t give to sports or law enforcement, because those are so heavily supported by others in the community. Just about everybody else gets a $15 gift card — but that’s the same amount we were giving 20 years ago, so on good days, I sometimes make it $20. And sometimes I’ll look at slow-selling sidelines and jazz up the itty bitty plastic card with a lonesome puppet or pair of earrings. Books themselves are too personal to choose for a completely unknown population of bidders or winners or choosers. Does anybody ever challenge a solicitation by asking where they buy books? It’s SOOOO tempting but I try to keep that attitude to burn at the gym. On days when I feel like I’m just another philanthropoon, I try to remind myself that comments indicate the community does notice a store’s frequent donations, even the measly ones.

  4. To Give or Not to Give

    I also get at least one request a day. One very expensive country club actually came in this week and reminded me that they got $50 last year (they told me what to give that year also.) These people are so rich and why do they have to come in and ask me for money. I didn’t like being told what to give so I said that I couldn’t this year (and will not in the future either.) Thanks for bringing up this subject- from now on- it is schools only.

  5. Peggy

    Our reply to the question, “Will you donate?” is always “Where will our name appear?” Donations are advertising. If the rep can’t tell us where Otowi Station Bookstore’s name will appear, we ask him or her to find out and get back to us. A teacher at an elementary school came in and asked for a donation to the annual Halloween carnival, and when I went to the school to deliver the items, the librarian was submitting a purchase order for books from Border’s. I was tempted to say, “Why don’t you ask Border’s or Amazon for a donation? I’m sure they’d be delighted to support your kids.” But I didn’t. Santy is watching me, and I want tickets to the circus for Christmas!

  6. Julianne Daggett

    I’m not a bookstore owner, just an author, but I’m curious about stores and author charities. CLAMP, the writing club of manga authors I’m apart of, supports several charities and we have started our own like the Galveston Library and Braille Library Fund. And for our own sake while were on tour (2012 in two years is what we are currently looking at to go on tour) we are curious while the topic is brought up about indepedent bookstores supporting author charities. Wether they will allow us to do promotions for our charities at their store, if people can make donations to our charities while at their store etc. I know the big chains Borders, Barnes and Nobles and Books A Million allows it, but I’m curious about independent bookstores and I know a lot of authors are too since many authors support charities or have charities of thier own or are apart of. What do your bookstores do when an author asks about doing a charity event with an author event which is what CLAMP and SHONEN<-the boys manga club is looking at. Signed J.M.Daggett, J.Daggett or aka M1 Tank


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