We all like getting something for free, right?

Many nonprofits depend on in-kind gifts (free stuff) to do their work. In fact, some of them thrive on it and celebrate that they have certain staff or volunteers who have great talent at “begging” and getting almost anything for free.

However, have you ever stopped to think about the freebie mindset that goes along with that behavior?

If you are not careful, you can cross the line into a “freebie” or entitled mentality that is actually harmful to your organization. I know this might be hard to hear, but there might be some long-term consequences to consider. In other words, those in-kind gifts might be causing more harm than good.

When you get something for free, how does feel? Likely you’ll say it felt good because you saved your organization money. You consider it being a responsible steward of your resources. Getting things donated frees up cash to pay for other necessary expenses (i.e., staff salaries, utilities, and program materials).

There are reasons that some people prefer to make in-kind donations. For some you’re helping them find a new home for unwanted items (i.e., clothing and furniture). Some businesses like giving in-kind gifts because they can give you “scratch and dent” items that reduce their inventory. Others do it because they don’t feel they can afford to make a financial gift, but they can give you a little time or service. Some do it because they feel obligated to do some community service or that the gift will fulfill their annual obligation to you.

Do you see what’s missing here? Relationship.

Relationships are key.

You already know that.

Donors who give stuff are just as important as donors who give money, and they all need some nurturing in order to continue giving.

Think of all the people you do business with on a regular basis…the restaurant that caters your event, the accountant who does your audit, the lawyer who reviews your bylaws, the printing company that does your newsletter, the graphic design company who does your art work, or the tech company that provides your internet service. How many of these people donate their services to you? What kind of relationship do you have with them? Do you feel like you get good and prompt service like a paying customer? How does the donor feel about you?

Have you ever had a problem with someone who has donated their services? It’s often hard to ask them to go back and ask for revisions because they feel like they’ve done you a favor. It can be very awkward. You know that saying, “You get what you pay for?” Free isn’t always the best thing.

Donated services can be a huge blessing. The critical part is your attitude about the free stuff. If you think businesses should donate because your organization is nonprofit, and you are focused on the donation, that’s a Gimme mentality. If you invite businesses to donate because it’s a way they can participate in the good work you’re doing, and you want to create a situation where they give year after year, that’s a Partnership mentality. There’s a big difference and it has a big impact on whether or not that business will give again. Who wants to be part of a relationship where one side takes and takes?

What we’ve found is that when you beg and someone gives something, there is less expectation. In fact, sometimes they give just to get you out the door (and they hope you won’t come back!). There just isn’t the same amount of respect as a paying customer would get.

Think about this: What would happen if you quit begging for some services and paid for them instead? Would the businesses actually do more for you?

When people feel like they are valued for what they provide, they’ll often go above and beyond to help you get what you need. They become a true partner with you because your actions show that you value their expertise. Then they are then willing to invest in your organization, and are more willing to help, and even spread the word about the great things you do…because they are part of it.

There’s a deeper relationship built on mutual respect that’s developed. You won’t have to go find someone new for each project and beg them to donate. You’ve got a solid partnership with someone who knows and loves you and they’ll do whatever it takes to help you be successful.

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