Even the most experienced fundraising professionals find it intimidating to request something for nothing. After all, an event may be enormously important to you, but why should anyone else care about it? With so many worthwhile causes in need of donations, you have a lot of competition, but you'll reduce the chances of hearing a "no" if you thoroughly research potential donors and are well prepared to approach them.
Know Your Audience
Determine what kind of organizations are likely to donate to your event. If it's a health fair, for example, consider approaching local hospitals. Locate the person within each organization who handles donation requests and find out as much as you can about her. For example, perhaps she is interested in lymphoma research. Use this information to personalize your request. You might begin with "Mrs. Smith, as a lymphoma research supporter, I know you care about finding a cure for cancer." Once she feels a personal stake in the event, a donation is much more likely.
Potential donors are approached all year long by individuals whose events are just as important as yours. Stand out from the mountain of emails and letters with a pitch they'll remember. For example, if you're organizing a walk-a-thon to raise money for battered women, stark visuals are best. Don't just throw out statistics. Although it may be startling to hear that such a large percentage of women are battered, pictures of these women's injuries may help donors see a cause-and-effect relationship between their donation and the improvement of the women's lives.
Never approach a potential donor without a specific need in mind. If you want a company to donate T-shirts for your event, do not approach it until you know exactly how many, what kind and what sizes. Be prepared to respond with certainty when asked what you need. If you stammer or respond you're not yet sure, the company may not take you seriously. Additionally, when you provide exact specifications, you make it easier for a donor to make a decision right away.
Give Something Back
The most effective fundraisers are those in which everybody -- including the donors -- wins, so think carefully about what you can offer your donors. If one company donates T-shirts and another donates a banner, consider offering the T-shirt company a place for its logo on the banner. It gets free publicity at your event along with any goodwill that comes from being associated with your cause. If you can't provide something tangible, offer a public thank-you at your event. After the event, write a sincere thank-you letter to each donor; you never know when you may need another event donation.