How to Turn Down Invites (But Keep Business Relationships)

Silent Auction PictureFor many business owners, participation in charitable events is a great asset to your marketing plan. Working with a charity can bring great exposure -- not just through the event attendees, but also through the resulting press, online and social media response that follows.

When planning a charity event, coordinators will often seek donations from various businesses. And though your startup would like to help a good cause, it may not be the right time to do so, for whatever reason. As entrepreneurs, a very common dilemma we face is knowing when and how to politely decline donation requests. However, it is possible to turn many fundraiser donation requests you decline into a win-win situation for both parties: increased marketing and lead generation for your company, and support for a worthy cause.

If you don't know how to say "no," here's how to keep your business sense straight, your conscience clear and your philanthropic relations peaceful:

  1. State your reason for declining. If you give the charity a valid reason for declining -- i.e. budget reasons, schedule conflict, etc. -- it will be easier for them to empathize and to take "no" for an answer without putting you on their blacklist. I always start by thanking them for considering us, then follow that up with an apologetic reason why we are unable to take part. An example form of this would be along the lines of: "Regrettably, we are unable to participate in your event at this time due to [insert your reason here].
  2. Completely decline to do the event. There will be times when, for whatever reason, you simply need to pass on the opportunity at the time. In this case, keep it simple, letting them know you'll have to pass at this time. Thank them and let them know to contact you for future opportunities to get involved.
  3. Optional: Make a counter-offer in return. Besides the donation, there may be another way for you to help them out. Offer gift cards or custom coupons instead of products or services. You can also refer a vendor who might be interested. On one occasion, we were contacted by an event organizer who was looking for sweet treats for her event. Due to a scheduling conflict, we were unable to attend, but we recommended an ice cream vendor we had previously worked with. After the event, we received an email from the event coordinator thanking us for the great vendor recommendation.

And last, but not least, wish them the best for their event. If you did attend the charity event, or if the counter-offer was accepted, always do your follow-ups after an event. Send thank-you emails to the event organizers and contact emails to any connections you may have made as a result of the event. Social media shout-outs to the charities and event coordinators for a job well done can go a long way in building relationships as well. Using this strategy, you can turn many fundraiser requests you may have declined into a sale.

Nina Rodecker is the founder and CEO of Tasty Clouds Cotton Candy Company, after a pregnancy craving in 2008 left her unable to find any in Los Angeles. She became a pioneer in cotton candy catered services and a well-known "mompreneur," appearing in interviews, books, webcasts, and more, speaking on subjects from running a small business to simultaneously manage motherhood and entrepreneurship.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

 

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