Getting stores to donate merchandise to your cause is often easier than getting them to part with cash. If you have an energetic team of volunteers to help round up items for your silent auction, door prizes or clothing for your clients, you need to send them out well-prepared for their task. They'll need credentials, a script, a description of what they're looking for and paperwork for documenting donations.


Plan the event or program for which you need donations. If your fund-raiser or project lacks a clear set of goals and action strategies, your volunteers won't know what sorts of things you want. This is particularly important when you are collecting goods instead of cash. You can't get the wrong sort of cash, but you can easily wind up with tons of donated stuff you can't use.

Set goals for the donation collection program. Know how many items you need to obtain and have a clear description of what those items are and how they will be used. It is very important that your volunteers understand how you plan to use the donations so they can answer donor questions.

Contact as many companies as you can get addresses and manager names for. Send a letter outlining what sorts of donations you're looking for and informing them they'll be visited by a volunteer.

Write a simple script to use when asking for the donation. Rehearse it with your volunteers until they're comfortable with it. The volunteers with sales experience will make the script their own. Those less certain of themselves will at least not be at a loss for words when approaching store owners.

Recruit volunteers who love your organization and who will get excited about soliciting items for your event or program. Look particularly for people with demonstrated skill in sales if you can get them. A person who enjoys that sort of thing will get twice as much done in half the time.

Create credentials for your volunteers that easily identify them to store owners and managers. A badge or card helps eliminate the concerns of potential donors who may wonder if your volunteers are legitimate.

Create and print donation log sheets that volunteers can use to record which donations came from which companies, including the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails of contacts. This information will help your bookkeeper generate records and receipts and add to your donor database. Create a simple receipt form the volunteer can give to the donor store, too.

Approaching Donors

Visit the stores from which you want to solicit clothing donations and talk directly to the manager. Many managers have authority to make donations of goods directly to local nonprofits. If they don't, they will refer you to the owner, or, in larger stores, to a person who has the authority to make such a donation.

Ask for what you want. Explain how the items will be used. If used directly for program participants, explain why they need clothes. If used as a prize or auction item, explain how the item will enhance your fund-raiser and what sort of public recognition you will give them at the event.

Offer an alternative, should the manager or owner be reluctant to donate goods. Money is always an alternative to a donated item and many feel more comfortable making that sort of donation.

Fill out the donor log and receipt accurately. Pack the donated item carefully for transport. Do not let your volunteers just pitch clothing donations into a car. They should always treat donated clothes carefully to avoid staining or wrinkling them.

Ask the donor to refer you to other businesses or friends who might give to your cause. Sometimes the fact that one clothing store made a donation can encourage another to match or exceed a competitor's donation. Sometimes the donor will ask; it's alright to tell them what others have given. Ensure that volunteers deliver donated items to the storage site and fill out logs completely. Don't forget to thank your volunteers and issue printed certificates of appreciation at the end of the campaign. Recognize outstanding efforts publicly. Throw a party for volunteers afterward to say, "Thanks."

Things You Will Need
  • Identification cards or badges for volunteers

  • Donor list

  • Sample script for approaching donors.

  • Goals for the collection program

  • Donation acknowledgement forms and donation log sheets

  • Certificates of Appreciation