How to get the most from your charitable donations

I frequently have people and organizations contact me for charitable donations or fundraisers. There are also many causes I wish to support. Over the years, I have sponsored countless baseball teams, contributed to unpaid medical bills from a serious illness and helped families who have lost the family breadwinner. I simply wrote a check and received a 50% tax deduction for a charitable contribution. Did you realize charitable deductions are only 50% deductible?

Most times, the law firm’s name appeared on a t-shirt or a banner or some other recognition. You know how many clients I have gotten from such generosity? None that I can directly trace. I have never had someone call me and say, “I want to hire you to represent me in a worker’s comp case because you sponsored my son’s baseball team.” It may have spread my general name recognition, but I am never going to compete with the big time advertisers when it comes to name recognition and branding.

Get something for your donation

I became very frustrated that my donations did not translate into clients. Of course I wanted to help, but a secondary motive was generating new business. I realized that my name on a t-shirt was not worth the money I was spending. Here’s how I have learned to get the most bang for the buck with charitable donations. These are real examples, all of which you can emulate.

Tie your donation to contacts for your mailing list

The most effective “bang for the buck” for donations is offering $5.00 for each person who registers at my web site. Here’s the language I use when approached to make a donation:

Thank you for contacting us about your fundraiser. My office frequently supports local charitable organizations. Rather than simply make a donation, I have found an effective way which benefits the organization as well as my firm.

I will donate $5.00 for each person who visits my web site and registers with their e-mail up to a maximum of $___. I will create a separate page for your organization on my web site with information and graphics you supply. You can publicize the link via Facebook or whatever other advertising manner you use for your event. We will also publicize your fundraiser through our web site, blog, Facebook and Twitter. And many more. Here is an example of what other organizations have shared on Faceboook which has proven very successful:

McCready Law, a personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm in Chicago, has offered to donate $5.00 for each person who supports our event by visiting Charity and registering. Please click the link to help us meet our goal and Share this link on Facebook. Thank you.

Please contact our marketing director, Michelle Alexandri at 773-779-9885 or to participate. Thank you and good luck with your fundraiser.

You will get several responses to this approach. Some organizations feel entitled to a donation and will not be interested. If that’s the case, I do not feel badly about declining their request. Others will embrace the idea and actively promote your firm while promoting themselves. I learned the hard way to put a cap on your donation. At $5.00 per registration, it is not unusual for me to receive in excess of 100 responses.

This approach accomplishes several things. First, you get recognition for your donation. That’s what I always received. But, you also reach beyond the organization itself because people will spread the word in order to increase the donation amount. You will reach the friends of friends through social networking. All you do is start the ball rolling with a proposition of donating $5.00 for each person who registers. Next, you will increase your mailing list and thus increase your chances for a referral after the event is long past. All these contacts are added to our e-mail newsletter list. Some people opt-out, but 95% do not. How many newsletters have you opted out of? Odds are, not many. Here’s a little known benefit. Each of these people count as a visit to your web site and Google organic search likes that. The more traffic you get, the more likely Google will send you more. It also increases your profile on Facebook when people “share” your link. Google also likes that when it comes to searches. You can see how I get a lot more “bang for my buck” by approaching donations in this way.

Publicize your donations

If you make a donation to a cause, by all means, publicize it. You should put it in your newsletter, on your web site or blog, on Facebook or Twitter or any other means you communicate with clients. You may not get new clients strictly from your donation, but it will reinforce your image as a “good” lawyer through the people you reach who already know you.

These techniques work even with large charities. Recently, someone stole a Salvation Army donation kettle right in front of a Walgreens. My wife and I couldn’t believe someone would do that. So, I contacted the Salvation Army and I said I wanted to make a donation to replace the money which was stolen. Now, I did this out of a genuine sense of outrage, but I did take into consideration the publicity value of such a donation. So to increase the likelihood that I would receive publicity, I told the Salvation Army I would “double” the amount which was stolen. They estimated $400 was stolen, so my donation was $800.

As a result of my donation, there were several news stories about me as well as a segment on WGN News and CBS News. I could not buy better publicity, which stemmed from my charitable donation. I received calls from current and past clients who said, “I saw you on the news/read about you in the paper, and I think it was great what you did.” I posted the publicity on my Facebook page and had strangers “like” and “comment” on my donation. Once again, all of this social media traffic is good for Google. I made this donation because I felt strongly and wanted to make the contribution, but I was able to leverage my donation into publicity which money cannot buy.

Watch the news and see what you can get behind. My good friend Matt Willens has received great publicity for his donations to honor bicyclists who are killed by automobiles. He donates a white “ghost” bike rack for killed bicyclists. Not only did he get great publicity for his charitable actions, Matt also happens to be a personal injury lawyer. Bicyclists who are hit by cars need lawyers. How many ghost bike racks can Matt pay for if he gets one wrongful death case out of his charitable contribution? There are countless opportunities for your charitable contributions to make a difference while at the same time promoting your firm.

Make it an advertising deduction

As I mentioned before, charitable deductions are only 50% deductible. That means, if you donate $200 to a charitable organization, you can only deduct $100. I won’t say that extra $100 is “wasted,” but wouldn’t it be better of you could deduct 100% of the donation? If you tie the donation into some form of advertising, it then becomes 100% deductible as an advertising expense. By following some of the above techniques, you can legitimately claim the money as an advertising expense, not just a charitable donation. Of course, check with your accountant, but I typically deduct contributions to charities as an advertising expense when I get something out of it.

Continue to contribute

Don’t let this article stop you from contributing to worthwhile organizations. But there are ways to get more out of your contributions than simply writing a check.