People who work for non-profits know that there is never enough money to pay for optional goods and services. As a result, worthwhile programs that offer more than minimal aid to those who need assistance do not get off the ground without money and goods from “givers” and services from “doers”. There are people and organizations out there willing to help. The challenge in “no-cost” procurement is to find them and then approach them properly.

Be able to express why your program is worth helping

If you need help in furnishing and equipping a learning center, for example, think through all the ways that center will be used. Perhaps your center will be used to help low-income adults learn marketable skills. Maybe it will be a place where elderly and disabled residents will gain enrichment experiences. It could well be that the center will offer children opportunities to take part in worthwhile activities that will keep them off drugs and out of gangs.

Make a list of your exact needs

It’s not enough to know that you need furniture for your learning center. You must clarify that you need four office desks, three desk chairs, five side chairs, five folding tables, twenty-five folding chairs, four bookcases, and four file cabinets.

Read the local newspaper

and when you are out in the community at meetings or other public functions, keep your ears open about possible organizations that can help you meet particular needs. If you are looking for furniture, for example, be on the lookout for a company that is remodeling or moving to a different building.

When you get a lead, act immediately

If you need furniture, chances are good that other organizations have the same need. The first to ask generally will get the best from what is available while the latecomers will get the junk or nothing at all.

Get a contact name

Call the company and ask for the name, address, and phone number of the person who heads public relations.

Call contact

Identify yourself and explain that you have heard that the company has used office furniture that is no longer needed. Ask if you may send a letter outlining your organization’s need for the furniture that will otherwise sit in storage. If the answer is in the affirmative, ask for the name and address of the person to whom the letter should be directed. Also, ask for a fax number.

Write a letter immediately that explains your organization

the use you would like to make of their surplus furniture, and the benefits the company will derive from helping your clients. When listing benefits to the company, do not include “tax break”; that’s understood, but it sounds crass. Benefits that might be listed include satisfaction that comes from helping people who need help, creating a pool of well-trained workers and publicity that will enhance the company’s image in the community.

Fax the letter

That indicates that you are serious about your request. Also, send a hard copy since fax messages sometimes do not reach their intended designees.

Follow up

Call in a couple of days to ask if your letter was received. Ask when your proposal will be considered. If you are given an exact date, call the morning after to ask if any action has been taken on your request. Follow this pattern until you get a “yes” or “no” to your request.

If your request is granted

send an immediate thank you letter. If your request is turned down, write to express appreciation for the time taken to consider your clients’ needs. One “no” does not mean forever “no”, so maintain a good relationship if you can.

If your request is approved

and you have promised publicity, send an article immediately to the local newspaper about the company’s generosity and what it will mean to your program.

Keep donors informed

If your organization has a newsletter, put donors, and even potential donors who turned you down on the mailing list. Organizations that helped or considered helping once might be willing to help more quickly when another need arises–if you are properly grateful, and they are not allowed to forget you exist.

Do not take turndowns personally

Instead, learn from them. Ask why your request was denied. Keep notes about your responses from each turndown. If you failed to include a specific piece of the required information, make a note to include it next time. If your program does not fit the giver’s range of giving, make notes about what causes do fall within that range.

It is sometimes easier to find people willing to donate services than it is to find givers willing to hand over money or goods. Nevertheless, doers must be as carefully cultivated as givers.

People often are willing to demonstrate what they know or do best even when asked to donate their services to a worthy cause. If, for example, you want an attorney to talk to a group of low-income senior citizens about Medicare law, stress both “low income” and “senior citizens” when making your request. Not many professionals will turn down a chance to help a bunch of poor old people.

Be willing to accommodate a doer’s schedule. If, for example, the senior citizen’s group that wants to know about Medicare law normally meets on the day the attorney has a staff meeting, ask the senior citizens to agree to another day when the attorney can be present.

Show appreciation in meaningful ways. If a computer expert keeps your donated computers in working order, for example, send a letter to the doer’s employer about the good citizen on the company’s payroll. Send a copy of this letter under separate cover to the doer.

Send thank-you letters even when things do not turn out as you had hoped. If, for example, a piano repairman charges nothing to diagnose a sick piano’s problems, the repairman deserves thanks for donating time and expertise even if he cannot repair the piano.

Include doers as well as givers on the mailing list for your newsletter, and express your thanks in that newsletter for any help you have received.

Do not go to the same well too often. If a civic organization cleans out dryer vents for elderly and disabled residents, for example, ask another organization to help construct a playground for the children.

Obviously, getting help (whether in the form of money, goods, or services) requires determination, persistence, and hard work. “No-Cost” Procurement often is difficult and it is always time-consuming. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile activity for any organization that seeks to do good things while living within the constraints of limited resources.

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