When gift-in-kind takes over your fundraising program

We all appreciate the support of individuals and companies that comes in the form of gifts-in-kind. But what happens when getting this type of support outweighs getting straight donations of cash?  

It usually happens pretty slowly. You may start with a backpack drive or a holiday gift drive — both admiral activities.  But if time and energy are shifted to these programs away from individual giving appeals and major donor gift campaigns, that is a problem. 

By its very nature, gift-in-kind needs a good deal of staff time.  It also requires that you have clear guidelines about what you will and will not accept. If you don't have a clear policy, you can end up with a lot of other people's junk.  Every organization is different, but if you work with children, teens, disabled adults, and families, you have experienced getting stuff that is unusable for your programs.

Another area of concern is gift cards. These have become very popular with donors and can be a handy way to support someone in your program.  But they are cash and should be handled like cash. You should acknowledge them as a cash gift. They should be secured in your office as cash.  I can't tell you how many times I have worked with organizations where the gift cards are in someone's desk drawer unlocked.  This can cause all sorts of problems and drive your auditors to distraction.  

How should you handle gift-in-kind requests? Well, as I said earlier, you need a gift acceptance policy.  Then the entire fundraising team, which includes your volunteer team, should have a clear picture of what your programs need. Notice I said needs, not wants.  Once these needs are filled, we shift to a cash request from people who contact us to provide toys or backpack items.  

If we know that increasing your contributed income is the goal, when someone contacts you and says that they want to give you a donation of cash for "toys," you can confidently suggest the following: Thank you so much for thinking of our participants during the holidays. Would you consider allowing us to use your gift where it is most needed during the holidays? The majority of people will say ok.  Now you have a new cash donor. A donor you can steward and work to get other gifts from during the year.  

Gifts-in-kind can be critical to your overall fundraising program, but a direct gift is always a better choice.

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