NCFY Reports

In-Kind Donations Provide Much-Needed Resources in a Cash-Strapped Economy

Lots of well-meaning folks–and businesses too–want to “give back.” But in these tough economic times, budgets may be feeling the squeeze. That’s why some prospective donors may be better equipped to provide “in-kind” support, rather than cash donations.

In-kind donations are a kind of charitable giving in which, instead of giving money to buy needed goods and services, people (or businesses) donate the goods and services themselves. Items could be things a program uses, like a refrigerator, computers, furniture for residential facilities, food, or clothing for young people. Or the donor could give something the program could use to raise money, like concert tickets or auction items.

In-kind giving offers businesses and individuals the opportunity to help programs focus their primary sources of funding–and attention–on the youth they serve.

NCFY spoke with fundraisers from two FYSB grantee organizations to get their advice about soliciting in-kind donations. Here’s what they told us:

Image of a young woman writing a list.Make a list. A “must have” for any organization seeking in-kind donations is a current – and very visible – “wish list,” says Heather Rist, development coordinator at Avenues for Homeless Youth, a Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grantee in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Rist suggests including the wish list in every newsletter (online and in print), displaying it on the agency’s Web site, and having copies on hand at the organization and community events.

Think creatively when you’re putting the list together. For instance, Rist worked with a local real estate agency to help landscape Avenues’ housing facility this past summer. Edina Realty bought everything needed—shrubs, mulch, weed killer—and volunteers from the company worked together with the youth to beautify the outside of their home.

Decide who to ask. Start with people and businesses that are already invested in or connected to your organization. “You can do the cold call approach. But it’s ideal to get your board or [fundraising] committee to figure out who they know,” says Rebecca Johnson, development manager at Family Support Services of the Bay Area, a Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program grantee in Oakland, California.

Ask for the things you need. Once you have your wish list and your list of contacts, your board or committee members can go down the list of potential donors and spread the word about your organization’s need for specific items, Johnson says. 

You can also approach prospective givers yourself. You might set up a time to talk on the phone with a person from a business you know, or invite them over for a site visit, Rist says. Describe the needs they could help meet. Be very clear. Tell the business exactly what you are looking for and how they can help.

If you are approaching a business your organization has no connection to, Rist suggests finding a “hook.” For example, ask a local dental office to donate toothpaste and toothbrushes, or ask a local salon to cut client’s hair one day a month.

Larger corporations and foundations usually require applications for in-kind donations. If you can’t find the information you’re looking for online, contact the corporation’s community relations department and ask them how to make a formal request.

Many schools and faith-based organizations also want to get involved in community service. Ask them to do a drive for your organization, like a food drive, hygiene products drive, or school supply drive at back-to-school time.

Create policies to avoid getting stuck with items you just can’t use. Even after putting together a specific wish list and being clear about guidelines for donating items, programs inevitably receive items they don’t need. Rist suggests listing a contact person for questions about in-kind donations and insisting that donations are approved before they are dropped off. To facilitate approval, schedule a drop-off time and have someone responsible for checking all donated items.

Image of a Thank You card with flowers.Thank your donors. Recognize every in-kind donation as you would a cash donation. (In fact, Rist says, always thank donors for thinking of your organization, even for items you can’t take.)

Publicly thank individuals and businesses in your newsletters, on your Web site, and in the agency’s annual report. Include a business’s logo for extra recognition. Also, be sure to write a more personal thank you letter to acknowledge the gift. Describe who received the donations, how the contributions were used, and how people benefitted. Donors will feel appreciated, and the letter has a practical purpose, too, serving as a receipt at tax time.


Organizations like Gifts In Kind International and GlobalHand help match people who have things to donate to qualified charities who need them. Register with these organizations to take part.

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