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Just thinking about asking people to donate their cars can be intimidating. After all, you’re asking your supporters to make a donation that’s potentially worth thousands of dollars. But don’t worry, car donations are quite popular and many people are eager to donate their cars and receive a tax write-off instead of going through the hassle of selling them themselves, getting a low price on a trade-in, or trying to dispose of a non-working car.

Advertise your new way of accepting donations

A car donation drive needs to be advertised like any other fundraising effort, but unlike a one-time fundraising event, you need to continuously keep the idea fresh in the minds of your potential donors. After all, not everyone you’re asking will have a car to donate the first time you advertise, but may have one a few months or years down the road.

Once you decide to take car donations (more about vehicle donations), creating an advertising plan and schedule from the onset will help get the ball rolling and keep it rolling.

Do you have a favorite print or online publication that you already advertise in? Create different sized versions of your ad and place it every week, two weeks or monthly, depending on your needs and what your budget allows. Don’t think of advertising your new program as a chore, but as another opportunity to let people know about the great things you do for your community.

Create posters, flyers and printables to to hand out and place a permanent ‘ad’ on your website and social media pages. As your message spreads, people will eventually think of your charity first when it comes to getting rid of an old car.

Don’t forget to ask local car dealerships or car rental companies for car donations. If they’re already contracted with a nationwide charity make your point to have them donate to a local charity instead.

car made of leaves
Taking car donations is a “green” fundraiser!

Instilling trust in your supporters

How can you instill trust in a potential donor, so he or she won’t feel like their car donation ends up in a black hole and nothing of substance comes of it? Let them know what their car is worth in terms of the tax write-off and in terms of value to your group and the community you’re serving.

– What is the tax write-off?

The value of the write-off a donor will receive depends on what your group does with the car after you’ve received it: will you be using it in your operations as a non-profit? Will you sell it and use the proceeds to fund your operations? Or will you engage a third party with turning donations into cash? Each one of these will trigger a different amount of tax write-off for your donor. (For more on how much can be written off, read vehicle donations.)

For example, let’s say you will sell the vehicle you’ve received. As current tax laws stand the donor will be able to write off the amount that you’ve sold the car for. Since you won’t be able to give an exact answer to the value of the car at the time of donation, let the donor know exactly when they will know about the final value of their car and when they can expect to receive notification from you. Consider giving an estimate by consulting a service like KBB.com. Above all, assure your donors that you will make it simple for them.

– What kind of cars are you accepting and how will they be picked up?

Will you accept working cars only? Or working and non-working? Is it easy for the donor to get the car to you, or will you pick it up? Don’t leave any of these details up in the air. Be crystal clear about what kind of cars you’re accepting and how they will be transferred, how and who will schedule any appointment or pick-up and so on. If any of these items aren’t addressed or are too time consuming or complicated, potential donors may be turned off.

– Set yourself apart from ‘middlemen’

As soon as there is a third party involved to handle your donations, your profits will be smaller per car (See vehicle donations). If you have a commercial company involved, potential supporters might bail because much of the value of their car will go to them and not your cause, or they might not be able to get a tax write-off. You can still have a lucrative fundraiser, but you’ll need more car donations to make up for the smaller profit per car. If you set up your program to either use the donated cars yourself, or sell the donated cars yourself your profit or value per car will be much higher.

– What is the value to your group?

Potential donors should know exactly what the money their car brings in will be used for. They might be wary about donating their car because they do not know how it will help exactly. Paint a picture for them so they know exactly what good they will be doing. You might even go so far as to earmarking proceeds from car donations for a specific project.

Acknowledge that it is a big deal

Donating a car is a big deal, there is no use in pretending it’s not. For many people buying a car is one of the largest purchases they’ll ever make in their lives. So giving away a car can have a lot of emotions attached to it. Emphasize that a donation of this size can help make a big difference in your charity’s effort to improve your community.

Help donors move from the perspective of giving up a lot of money or losing something valuable to looking at it as their chance to make a difference in the world and help others in a big way.

Follow up a donation with a final receipt (if applicable) and a thank-you note. If possible, offer to include donors’ names on any lists you might have, commemoration plaques for new projects or other ways that honor your supporters.

A car donation drive is a big undertaking but can pay off in a big way. Let people know what it will help you achieve and why you’re doing it.

(Image: istockphoto/EduardHarkonen)

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