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  • In-Kind Donations and Low Cost Products and Services for Your Group – Part 1

When you’re working or volunteering for a charitable group, you’re used to asking for cash. But there will be times when cash simply doesn’t flow freely, be it because of a national recession, or local factors like high unemployment, or simply because people are overwhelmed by all the solicitations for money they receive. In any case, many times companies or individuals are better able to donate goods than cash, simply because they don’t require an extra outlay of cash and the goods are already paid for.



Asking for in-kind donations isn’t as straight forward as asking for cash, but will be another way to support your cause: when funds are hard to come by, in-kind donations will be a source of support for your group; when your funds are sufficient, it takes the strain off of your budget and allows you to fund more projects.

For the sake of simplicity, we’re combining resources for in-kind donations and for very low cost products and services in this article. Generally, donated items and donated professional services count as in-kind donations.

Following are some considerations and ideas about in-kind donations and low cost products and services:

Places to find free or low-cost items

Store closures: when stores close, and after their initial sale, the owners are often anxious to get rid of remaining inventory, clean out the space and leave. You may get a hold of free shelves, signs, cash registers, computers, desks and more. Even if you can’t get these items completely free, you can usually get them for pennies on the dollar. Be sure to be ready to pick up items on the spot, so have a truck with you and helpers to load it if you’ll be getting bulkier items.

Manufacturers: stop by your local Chamber of Commerce, or search online and find out what is being manufactured nearby. You may be able to get products donated that directly help your cause, depending on the manufacturers in your area. (For example, supplies for your school’s music department, or flooring for your new youth center?) Even if their products aren’t directly useful for your cause, you may be able to get other materials like plastic wrap, boxes, paper, imperfects, etc. that you can use for your office operations.

Offices: you may already know someone who works in a large office. Find out if they have any discards from presentations or proposals. Often there will be excess paper, binders, folders or other materials that are not needed anymore once a project is finished. Rather than throwing these things away, they may be happy to hand them off to you. Maybe you can make arrangements to come by once a month to pick up any of their reusable or recyclable materials.

Copy shops: they may have paper left over from a special order, supplies that were ordered but never used, materials for signs and so on. Speak with the manager and see what you could take off their hands and use for your cause. It may save you money and give them a tax write-off.

New Stores and businesses: if you’re planning on having a silent auction for example, local stores and businesses may be willing to donate items, event tickets and gift cards for gift baskets. This would be a great way for them to get the word out about their products or services while helping a good cause.

ReStores resale outlets, Goodwill etc.: these stores don’t offer free items, but any store that takes donations will have incredible deals on the items on their shelves. For larger purchases they may be willing to give you an even better deal.

Taprootfoundation.org: Taprootfoundation.org you can apply to receive pro bono professional consultation services if you’re within the Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. metro areas.

Wholesale stores and outlets: you may find sharply marked down sale items, or get free supplies like plastic and paper bags that have been used to ship items and are not needed any more. Sometimes outlets will even discard unsold merchandise. Yes, some companies will throw away unsold merchandise (incl. clothing, food), because it may cost too much to dispose or recycle the items otherwise. Make it easy for them to donate to your group and you may make a big difference in your group’s budget.

Other charitable groups: maybe there is another charitable group you can share resources with, even if it’s just display tables for a fundraising event.

Your local Freecycle group: sign up for your local Freecycle group and see if you can get any items that will help your cause, or if you can trade items you don’t need. Like any other site that offers free items, be careful who you’re dealing with. The group’s manager may not scrutinize new members or not manage the group very well which can make using your local Freecycle group challenging. It may be worth a try though, especially if you need specific items on a regular basis.

Try Listia: a website that works like eBay but without the exchange of money. List items you don’t need to receive credits which you can then use to ‘buy’ items you need. Granted, Listia offers lots of collectibles and other small items, but there are also electronics like DVD players, cameras, computers and small furniture. You currently get 450 free points for signing up.

Individuals: one of the most popular in-kind donations are food items which are often asked for from individuals. But supporters maybe be more than happy to donate other items as well. If you advertise your need on your website, your email list or a local newspaper, someone may come forward with the item(s) you’ve been asking for.

You could also ask for professional services as in-kind donations. Accountants, tax professionals and consultants may be willing to donate their time and services to help you out.

GrassRoots.org: Grassroots.org provides web services like hosting, web design and consultations to non-profits.

Volunteer sites: You could try volunteer sites like Idealist.org or Volunteermatch.org to not just find volunteers, but also to find someone who might donate their professional services.

Other places for finding free or low-cost items: any outlet store, restaurants, local contractors and builders for residential homes, designers, auctions, public sales of abandoned storage spaces, local classifieds, paint stores.

What sort of in-kind donations you can ask for

This will depend much on what your cause is, but some items (like gift cards) are universally useful:

– Universal: coupons, gift cards (even $5), tickets/passes to events (for auctions), empty ink cartridges
– To help individuals: clothing new and gently used, school supplies, furniture, tools and supplies for home repair, toys, housewares, pet food, professional services
– For your office: paper, pens, pencils, trash bags, computer, printer, paint, professional services

There may be items for in-kind donations that you haven’t thought of yet: Find out what kind of manufacturers are nearby, browse a Freecycle group, or post an ‘open’ request on your website and your other communications. Someone may want to donate a valuable item and need help determining its value (get official appraisal), or transporting it to you.

For more tips on in-kind donations, please click over to part 2.

What are some in-kind donations you have received? Where have you been able to get valuable in-kind donations? Please share with us and leave your answer in the comments below!

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