How to Say ‘No’ to Requests for Charitable Donations

By Jim Houck

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I sometimes work offsite at a particular neighborhood coffee shop, and even within the one- or two-hour window I’m there, the owner-operators face a barrage of solicitors in-between paying customers.

  • We’re seeking raffle basket items for a spaghetti dinner fundraiser. Can you provide something?
  • We’re selling ads for the high school basketball program. Can we count on your support?
  • We’re asking local businesses to donate an item for door prizes at our golf outing. We’d appreciate your participation.
  • We’re putting together a coupon book to support the local youth baseball league. We’d love to include your business.

They’re all great causes, I’m sure. And as a small business owner or community relations professional we all want to support local causes and nonprofits, particularly in the communities we do business. There’s an argument to be made that they can be solid marketing opportunities, too.

But we simply can’t support them all. There are only so many funds available for charitable donations. The key is to be tactful when we turn them down.

What’s the best way to say ‘no?’ Here are a few suggestions.

Here, fill out this form. Establish a “donation request process.” In this case, you don’t have to say no. At least not yet. Require all donation seekers to complete a form, and let them know that all requests are reviewed by a committee on a monthly or quarterly basis. You may find that most solicitors don’t have the patience to complete the form or the time to wait out the process, and they’ll simply go away. Retain the right to waive the process and make ad hoc “yes” decisions when necessary.

Sorry, that falls outside of our “giving guidelines.” Identify the two or three most meaningful charities or cause types for your business, and limit your support to those few (education, children, veterans, medical-related, etc.). Again, exceptions are always allowed. And if it’s a significant client doing the ask – find a way to say yes.

I’m afraid we’ve maxed out our donation budget this quarter. Set a strict budget and stick to it (even if the cash flow doesn’t allow, and your budget is $0). Offer to consider a donation in subsequent months or the following year instead.

Would you consider an in-kind donation? Turn the tables and offer alternative ways to support the cause that are relevant to your business. Donate some slow-moving inventory. Offer some free labor or consultative services. Find a new home for some leftover promotional items. Give away some free product.

In other words, be strategic, be polite, but be firm, as well. Your heart of gold does not have to be tarnished if you say no correctly.

The author, Jim Houck, is president of The Houck Agency, a Youngstown marketing and public relations firm. He can be reached at or 330 554 5234.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.