Whether you're throwing a silent auction, annual fundraiser or looking for donated goods for a charitable program, local stores can help you meet your goals. Not all local businesses will want to donate, but many enjoy doing so as a form of community involvement. To give store owners time to consider your request, it's approach them in writing, with a follow-up later. Narrow your request for specific donated goods to have the best chance of success. Getting donated goods takes time, but the payoff is worth it.

Make a list of items you'd like to have for your event or raffle, then brainstorm which local businesses you can approach for donations. For example, if you want donated cookbooks, plan to approach large chain bookstores, small independent bookstores and cooking supply stores. All of these sell cookbooks, and one or more may make a donation.

Create a donation letter that discusses who you are and what the donations are for. For example, if you're a nonprofit running arts programs for youth, explain who you serve, how long you've been in existence and what programs you offer. Then note that you need donated items for a silent auction to benefit program scholarships. The details of the letter will be specific to your cause.

Add some historical background to the letter. If yours is an annual event, include statistics from past events on how many people donated, how much money you raised and what businesses sponsored the event. The letter should be brief but should clearly explain to stores who you are, what you do, and how and why they can help you make a difference.

List specific items you want donated at the bottom of the letter so the store know how they can help. For example, ask for things like two $50 gift certificates, four cases of bottled water or $75 worth of sports equipment. Explain how the donation will help the store--for example, it will increase business or it will attract customers for a newly opened store. Outline what you will do to draw attention to the business, such as listing its ad in your event bulletin or publicly thanking donors.

Include your contact information at the bottom of the letter, and let the store know that you'll be following up to discuss the donation.

Contact the stores on your list and ask for the contact information (name, address and phone number) of the person in charge of charitable giving. Send your letter to that person.

Visit the store in person and present a verbal pitch to the owner or manager, then give them the hard copy. If you decide to make your pitch in person, ask for a donation on the spot while your cause is fresh in their mind--according to Fundsraiser, store owners may find it harder to refuse you in person than via mail. Leave a copy of your letter with them, so they remember when you return to pick up the donated goods.

Follow up two weeks later with a phone call or visit to the recipients of your letters or earlier visits. Determine whether the store can help and arrange donation details, like when you can pick up donates goods.

If you pitched in person, skip this step or consider calling if you got a vague reply (such as "Let me think about it") when you visited.


Remember that stores are businesses--not all merchants you approach will be able or willing to help. Start well in advance of the event to secure all necessary donations.

Be flexible--if the store can't meet your full donation request but is willing to to contribute something, let it do so.