Many grocery stores and restaurants are willing to donate food and beverages to charity organizations; it might be part of their mission to contribute to the community. Treat food donations as a business transaction by offering your donors proper documentation. Be prepared to give them a letter of a request and a receipt for their donation. As an incentive, you can promote their business by including their logo or name on your event promotional materials.
Make a list of restaurants and grocery stores in your area. Include their contact information such as address and phone number.
Prepare a script, which you will read when you call the eateries and stores. The purpose of the initial phone call is to gather information--who the community-relations manager is and whether the business offers food donations. Start the script with an introduction of yourself, the organization and the event. Explain that you're seeking food donations for your charity or event and that you'd like to speak with a community-relations manager. End your script by asking for donations and gathering information on the proper contact.
Call each restaurant or supermarket. Follow your script as best you can but be personable and spontaneous. It's a good idea to develop a relationship with the appropriate contact from the start. Chances are he will ask for a letter-of-request. Let them know you’re sending one. If you have to leave a message, give a 30-second to one-minute summary of your organization, the event, what you’re requesting and a phone number. Ask him or her to call you back.
Type a one-page letter to each restaurant and store; this letter will explain your organization’s mission and event and will serve as an official written request to the prospective donor. Personalize your letter to the appropriate contact. Include what your non-profit status is and your Federal Tax Identification Number. Mention if you will use the food to feed guests, volunteers or both. Specify the food items you need. Let your contact know you will call her to follow up within the next couple of days. Include your contact name and phone number.
Deliver or mail your letter then prepare a follow-up script. You will read from this script when you call your contact to see if he received your letter. Mention you mailed a letter-of-request a few days back and you're verifying they received it. Repeat your request by asking your contact if they're willing to donate any food or beverage items. When they say “Yes,” let them know you will bring them a receipt for their generous donation.
You can buy blank receipt books at an office-supplies store. Some stores might provide day-old items from the bakery or produce section, which are still acceptable to serve and prepare into meals. Use your event as an opportunity to develop a long-term relationship with potential donors, who might enjoy donating to your organization on a regular basis in the future.
Judy Asman is a former leisure columnist and restaurant reviewer for Southern California magazines and guidebooks. She is the editor of "The Astute Recorder," which focuses on food and leisure with a historic twist. After graduating with a bachelor's in mass media studies from The University of San Francisco, she later earned a master's in journalism and public affairs from American University, Washington, D.C.