How to Run a Simple Charity Collection Drive

You’re not the high-powered parent who heads the school auction committee with seventy volunteers to direct and high-end items to find and price. You’re not the hooked-up guy or girl who can get a celebrity to appear at your black-tie fundraiser or donate a signed raffle prize to raise extra cash at the door. And you’re not someone working fulltime for as a trained, experienced non-profit professional. So, when it comes to helping your favorite charity, established or informal, you don’t think you can do much more than write a check for a few bucks and send a good thought. You’re wrong! You have the power to organize your friends, acquaintances and family into carrying out a simple collection drive for your favorite cause. It doesn’t take a million bucks or a year of your life spent organizing to make a difference for a cause you care about. All it takes is some planning and some passion.

THE CONCEPT: If you’ve participated in a big fundraiser or collection drive, you may think they always have to be complicated, complex, and time-consuming to have an impact. This isn’t true. A simple, grassroots drive only involves contacting a charity, finding out what they need, organizing the logistics of the drive (what goes where when) and recruiting friends and acquaintances to participate in any way they feel comfortable. The results, yes, will probably not leave your non-profit of choice busting at the seams with donations, but you never know! And so what- the point of organizing a collection on a grassroots level isn’t to save every corner of the world; it’s help one corner of the world have it a little easier. One reason there are so many problems in so many areas of society is too many people think because they can’t do EVERYTHING there’s no use in doing something. One motto I try to keep in mind whenever I participate in a small scale collection: a drop in the bucket is welcome in a desert. People who run non-profits are so often understaffed and underfunded and undersupplied. Add to that their frequent belief, based on experience, that the majority of people are apathetic. Any effort, any caring, any help in getting them what they need is likely to be appreciated more than you can imagine. A simple charity collection drive will make a difference for someone!

THE CHARITY: The first thing you need to do if you’d like to organize a simple charity drive is contact the charity you’d like to help and ask them the most simple but important question: “What do you need?” The whole purpose of having a charity drive is to get the organization things they need or want. Having a drive for toothbrushes when the local kids program really needs apples and bananas, for instance, isn’t going to do anyone any good. So contact someone at the charity/non-profit you’d like to help, explain you’d like to support them with a small, informal drive among friends, and say you’d like to know how you can be of use. Do they need volunteers, cash, equipment, publicity? Sometimes, the “what do you need” answer is available on the website or newsletter for the charity if they have a wish-list or ongoing drive of their own posted. Still, it’s a good idea to make a call, send an email, and/or stop by the place, and get a rough idea of the specifics involved. Also, when you talk to your charity, ask the how, when, and where of donations. Do you need to mail things, do they pick things up with their truck? Who gets the checks? The charity itself will also perhaps be able to provide you with information about their work which you can you (and even pass out to) your collection participants.

THE QUESTIONS: After you talk to the non-profit for whom you’d like to hold your collection drive, you must start making decisions. You must decide on the “what?” What specific items are you going to collect: cash? Items that can be used immediately or stuff you can resell elsewhere? What kind of drive is this going to be “A bottle drive with proceeds going toâÂ?¦.” “A toy drive for the kids atâÂ?¦” After you decide what you’re going to collect, you need to settle the question of “when?” You have to choose a start and end date for the drive. You may want to coordinate this with the schedule of the non-profit you’re helping or with a holiday. Then you’ll have to follow up with “where?” . Where should people bring their items or send their checks? And then there are a few “how” questions. Some are basic: how will the proceeds or items be used by the charity? How can donors get in touch with you? How else can people help if they can’t make a donation? Others “how?” questions may be specific to your effort: how can a large item be shipped? How should items be packed? Make sure to analyze the daylights out of your idea and think ahead to what people participating might want to know.

THE CONNECTIONS: One of the most heartening things you will find when you do a simple charity collection drive is how good people are. So many people are more than willing to donate time, treasure and talent, but don’t want or aren’t in a position to deal with the details or take the initiative themselves. That’s where you come in. You’re providing them with an opportunity to follow their best instincts. They, in turn, are helping you do the same. And the end result of the interaction is the non-profit for whom you’re collecting is going to benefit. It’s a win-win-win situation. So once you’ve set your collection drive details, don’t hesitate to contact friends, family and acquaintances with this opportunity to get involved. A few quick points about going public with your drive :

1- Consider your announcement like it’s an invitation to take part in something you think they might like and not some high-pressure “give or I’ll think you’re a loser” thing. Keep it concise, casual, and sincere and you can’t go wrong. Remember, these are people you know and who know you.

2- Write an announcement which allows people who donate to feel they’re really part of something and have co-ownership in helping. No one wants to think they’re just bankrolling someone else’s good deed, and you wouldn’t want anyone to feel this way. Let them know and why you thought they might want to be part of the drive. Give them details about the charity they’re supporting. “We” is always a good word!

3- Don’t hesitate to use a newsletter or mass emailing to get the word out. Such an invite will foster a team-effort vibe that goes well with the philanthropic endeavor you’re announcing. You’re not just holding a drive- you’re connecting people in good work.

4- Use your best judgment about whom to contact and whom to leave off the list. If there’s an old friend who loves this cause too, and you haven’t been in touch with for a while, consider writing a funny one-liner about how you only get in touch when you want something. On the other hand, if you think you might offend or annoy or put someone on the spot by including them, better to leave them out than cause trouble for yourself

5- Make sure everyone has your contact info. Set up a website charting your progress if possible.

CONTAINMENT: For you simple charity collection drive, I recommend keeping the word “simple” in mind. Stick with people you know (and invite them to include their friends and coworkers if they want) and keep everything informal. Dealing with people who know and trust and making a collective donation as private citizens is the way to go. Yes, it may seem like you can get more supplies by advertising in the local paper “Can drive: all profits to go to the Red Cross” . But unfortunately, in this world, as we know, some people might use that same tag line for a scam and you may find yourself having to call your Red Cross contact to vouch for you. Also, as a certain auction website recently reminded me when I auctioned an item and mentioned it was for a charity: there are a lot of federal and state laws governing solicitation on behalf of a non-profit. Keeping your drive private and small is a good way to do good without getting tangled in a lot of those regulations. You’re and your friends are just private citizens making a donation to a charity you support. If you’d like to do something bigger, talk to your contact at the charity about how that might be done.

COLLECTION: Your charity collection drive may take place in a day, over a weekend or over a longer period of time. In any of these cases, organization is key once your collection phase begins. First, keep track of who donated what and when it came in. This is for both accounting/inventory purposes and also for acknowledging the donor. If someone makes a donation in person, good. But if people are sending money or items or support of any kind to your collection drive by mail or email, make sure to acknowledge them as soon as possible to let them know you received what they sent. Second, plan, don’t procrastinate, when it comes to handing over the donated goods (or holding your auction/resale and then handing over the proceeds) to your charity of choice. Mailing a lot of stuff or moving a lot of stuff is often a pain in the neck. Don’t put it off, plan ahead. Have boxes ready to pack. Have your transportation and heavy-lifters set to move. Set aside postage as needed. Be ready to go to the charity or the post office. Don’t let a great drive end in a lot of downtime before your goods get where they can do some good.

THE CONCLUSION: After your donated items have gotten into their intended hands, make sure to contact everyone you announced the drive to and give them a recounting of the totals and the final delivery of the items. Be sure to include any personal messages that charity personnel or recipients may have passed along. If they sent a note of thanks, why not photocopy it and send it to your donors? The best way to keep a drive going is to make sure the people involve feel like they’re making a difference, like what they sent to you didn’t just go into some black hole. Chances are your friends and family didn’t participate to be acknowledged, but they earned it by taking part. And that includes you! After you’ve finished your simple charity collection drive, take some time off to chillâÂ?¦.before you evaluate how it all went and of course, learn from the good and bad of your drive and start planning for the next one!

COMPASSION: The most important thing of all to remember as you connect with people you know to help a charity you care about is that your drop in the bucket counts. Don’t back away from making a difference because you don’t think it’s big enough difference. Remember the famous story of the man on a beach flooded with starfish dying out of the water. He kept tossing one starfish at a time into the ocean to save them. Another guy walked by and said “Man, why are you bothering? Tthere are so many. What you’re doing doesn’t make a difference.” The first man picked up another star fish, threw it into the ocean to safety then simply replied. “It made a difference to that one.” Compassion always counts.

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