It’s okay to Piss off your Donors

What, really?


Picture by Susan NYC from Flickr

Recently I got an email from a lovely newsletter subscriber, who asked about how to gracefully decline donations, and make sure that all-staff helps back you up. Here’s what she wrote:

> Thanks for another great post, Mazarine!
> Have you written anything about in-kind giving? Our neighbors and “friends” like to donate “useful” things to us… walkers, shower chairs, canes, and other durable medical equipment. I’m leery of providing a “tax receipts” for DME since it was most likely paid for by the donor’s insurance company or by Medicare.

I also do not want to offend the donor, as he or she is usually the son or daughter of an older adult who has recently passed away. I have been able to graciously decline some gifts, but have yet to convince all staff members that it is ok to say no to a donation. Would love to hear your feedback on creative ways to thank people for these useful things and their desire to help our residents.

I agree, these people should not be getting tax receipts! It’s hard to let people know you love them, but don’t want their gift! People can get very snotty, or angry. I know, because I was in this position when I worked at a DV shelter, people would drop off their old clothes, covered in cat hair and worse, and get really angry when we wouldn’t take them.

So we had to write new in-kind donation forms, where we said, we do not accept used clothing, we only accept new clothing. Because how would you feel if you had to start your new life in some worn-out clothes?

And we lost some donors over this, but we didn’t care because those donors really were not going to be good if they stipulated that we HAD to take their crappy ugly used underwear, you know?

So I would make a new in-kind donation policy, give it to all staff, mention it at every meeting of all-staff for 2-3 months, until people get the picture

Here’s some language for declining certain in-kind gifts.

1. “We cannot accept these due to our gift policy, but thank you very much for thinking of us”

2. It’s about policy, it’s not personal. And if they press, redirect and say, “we have limited space, and what we really need is X” Then hand them your list of things you DO need in-kind.

3. And if they STILL want to give you the used wheelchairs and try to get a tax receipt, you might just want to say, “Look, we appreciate you want to give, but unfortunately this gift is not what we need.”

After that, you’ve really done all you can do and if they get upset, you’ve been firm, clear with your boundaries, and you’ve done your job. Their emotions are not your fault or your problem.

To avoid this embarrassing and potentially awkward situation, make sure that your in-kind donation policy is posted clearly on your website, outside your donation drop-off, and anywhere else that potential in-kind donors walk in and try to give you things. Also make sure that there are donation policy handouts available at all times at your reception desk.

A sample donation policy might include:

Here’s what we don’t accept and will not give tax receipts for:

Used wheelchairs
Used shower chairs
Used canes
and other durable medical equipment

Here are the kinds of donations we accept:

New clothing with tags still attached
coffee filters
reams of paper
gift cards for volunteer appreciation

Get the picture?

Was this helpful?

Have you ever had to say no to a donor? How did you handle it?

Posted in