Getting companies to donate to your nonprofit event

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Successful events often depend on the ability of nonprofits to get donated food and auction items. For large nonprofits, who tend to have existing relationships with companies, getting valuable items, like a tour of the Pixar office, is a lot easier. Smaller and newer nonprofits tend not to have existing relationships and need to play the game of mass outreach — literally applying to hundreds of companies via their web portals.

The good news is companies everywhere are donating. According to the National Restaurant Association and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 94% of all restaurants and 77% of small businesses make charitable contributions.

The problem is that the process is time consuming and frustrating. Nonprofit staff and volunteers literally visit businesses door-to-door in their neighborhoods, search for companies online, and submit applications to businesses individually. Here are a few tips to increase your success rate:

Apply two months before your event to increase success rate by 43%, and start one month before to get the most options.

We analyzed the nearly 2000 applications submitted to companies in the United States that came through TheShareWay. Nearly 60% of applicants submit donation requests less than a month before the event date but applying two months in advance increases approval rate by 43%. Get those applications in early!

We also cataloged how far in advance applications need to be submitted. Out of companies that specified advance notice time, 39% of companies require one-month notice. 23% require two-months notice. Apply earlier to get more options!

Follow up at least twice

I have secured donations on behalf of nonprofits like Teach for America. 45% of the sponsors I secured said “yes” after the first or second follow-ups! Jason Zook from Wandering Aimfully found that 75% of the sponsorships he landed have come from a follow up email, not from the initial pitch email.

Offer something creative

When you make bigger asks, offer something creative to stand out. According to Eventbrite, it is now harder to win brands over with on-site logo placements compared to before. Now, brands are getting placements on things like mobile and web-based event apps and Wi-Fi. For example, for tradeshows, brands can now place their offers on apps like BoothIQ. BoothIQ allows brands to track impressions and clicks, which is not possible with logo placements in program guides. 

In addition to trackable digital placements, other types of offers that stand out include speaking opportunities, coupon distribution, and access to attendees’ email addresses (if you are able to get the attendees’ consent to distribute their contact information).

Pitch to new brands and restaurants

Restaurants with grand openings and companies launching new products are looking for people to try their products to get feedback and drive purchase. The easiest way to win companies over is to pitch them your event when they are looking to give products away!

Make a relevant pitch

One of the key steps to a winning sponsorship proposal is pitching your attendee demographic. Companies sponsor to get their brands in front of their target consumers or to associate their brands with good causes. Find companies that match your event’s attendee demographic. For example, if your nonprofit is focused on women and most people attending your fundraiser will be women philanthropists, then go to fashion companies, like Cuyana or Glossier, who want to reach your audience. If your event is a hackathon, coffee companies would be more interested because it’s the right setting for their product.

We hope these tips help you secure more donations!

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Hannah Yang is the founder and CEO of TheShareWay, a directory of companies that donate food, beverage, raffle items, and venue to nonprofits. She formerly worked in fundraising at Change.org and as a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting.