To Give or Not to Give

Josie Leavitt -- November 4th, 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.

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