For craft nonprofit Would Works, charitable donations enable wood working job training programs for people experiencing poverty and homelessness.

Photo courtesy of Would Works.

The holidays mark an increase in sales for many small businesses, and it’s also a season of increased charitable giving. “One day of generous giving during the holidays can provide a month of programming during the year,” said Amy Milne, Executive Director of the nonprofit Quilt Alliance, which maintains two large oral history projects and hosts two biennial educational events dedicated to preserving quilt history.

“We also produce a monthly interview show for our members, and a lecture and documentation day program for guilds – all for an annual budget of just over $100,000,” said Milne, adding that donors know they’re making a big difference when they contribute to a charity that does a lot with little resources.

Nonprofits like the Quilt Alliance seek donations throughout the year, and you can make a difference for your favorite charity by donating a portion of the sales from your craft business. If you want to leverage your craft business to support a nonprofit, follow these simple and helpful tips from seasoned charitable givers to start making a difference in your community today.

Finding the right fit

When Virginia B. Johnson founded the fiber shop and studio Gather Here, charity was a priority. “That has always been part of our brand identity,” said Johnson, who regularly hosted clothing drives at the shop. She noticed funding cuts to important local nonprofits after the 2016 election and decided to make a bigger impact.

Gather Here’s We Care Wednesdays have increased sales on Wednesdays when customers know they are helping a good cause.

Photo courtesy of Gather Here.

Virginia B. Johnson, founder of Gather Here, says donations are part of her business model.

Photo courtesy of Gather Here.

In January, 2017, Gather Here launched We Care Wednesdays.

“Every Wednesday, we donate 5% of our profits to a charity that we’ve selected for their immeasurable impact on our community,” Johnson said.

They’ve donated over $20,000 to 24 nonprofits since the initiative began. With so many deserving nonprofits, what advice does Johnson have about finding the right fit for you? “We started with nonprofits that were physically close to us,” says Johnson. Noticing the nonprofits making direct impacts in your community is a good start.

Johnson also accepts suggestions of nonprofits from the Gather Here team and customer base. Between her own research and the suggestions, there’s never a shortage of possible organizations to donate to. “The community is often eager to help other community members,” Johnson said, noting that customers make larger purchases on Wednesdays knowing their money makes a difference.

Starting small

The Tiny Activist Project, founded by Sarah Marsom, didn’t start out as fundraiser. Before attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in 2016, Marsom sewed a doll of Jane Jacobs, a pioneer of historic preservation. She discovered that conference attendees wanted to buy a doll of their own. Because of her job running a consulting business, Marsom didn’t want to start a webstore, but she did see a way she could put her doll to good use. “I wanted this to be a fun way that I could fundraise and help expand the historic preservation movement,” said Marsom. “I decided that the best way would be to help create opportunities for emerging professionals to attend conferences.”

Sarah Marsom blended her love of textiles and historic preservation to create her Tiny Activist dolls.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Marsom.

Each handmade Tiny Activist doll promotes historic preservation education and creates scholarships for professional development.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Marsom.

By donating 15% of the sales of her Tiny Activist dolls, designed in collaboration with illustrator Shannon May, Marsom created Tiny Scholarships for People with Big Dreams. Her goal in creating a scholarship is to help emerging and innovative historic preservationists to get professional development training, and encourage more inclusive stories to be told in the field. Each scholarship is $200, covering the full cost of student registration to the National Trust’s annual conference.

Marsom started small, selling only Jane Jacobs dolls and kits. After adding an I.M. Pei doll, Marsom expanded her scholarship program by offering awardees the choice between two preservation conferences. In 2020, Marsom will add a third doll in partnership with Latinos in Heritage Conservation. By adding her dolls one at a time, Marsom grows her fundraising capacity in a manageable way for this one-woman show.

Donating to nonprofits

Would Works, a nonprofit offering woodworking training to people experiencing poverty or homelessness in Los Angeles, is a craft organization that accepts donations regularly. After founder Connor Johnson worked with homeless people in Skid Row and heard them say, “I WOULD WORK…if I could,” he decided to help. Would Works helps participants set financial goals, provides supplies and food during workshops, and trains people in a skilled craft.

Would Works provides both job training and community building.

Photo courtesy of Would Works.

Learning wood working skills at Would Works economically empowers Los Angeles residents.

Photo courtesy of Would Works.

To Would Works Program Director Lee Buchanan, donations from crafters are especially meaningful.

“As crafters, we all know the positive, life changing power of making something beautiful with your own hands,” Buchanan said.

“Consider giving to organizations like ours who are sharing the love of craft with people who really need a positive community, generative creative practice, and the satisfaction of seeing the concrete and beautiful outcome of a hard day’s work.”

Nonprofits strive to make things easy for donors, and now most financial donations can be made online. Once a donation is made to Would Works, Buchanan says that donors receive a confirmation receipt with the nonprofit’s EIN number (tax ID) to use when reporting their donation on their taxes. They can also expect guidance if they want to make an in-kind donation, and to be thanked or have their business promoted on social media. Most of all, she says there’s one word to describe what to expect when donating to a nonprofit – “Gratitude!”

Documenting your donations

Documenting and reporting donations made through your craft business is also easier than ever. At Gather Here, they proudly say, “We are not afraid of bookkeeping.” Each week, their point of sale system generates reports, including what 5% of their Wednesday earnings are so at the end of each month, they know exactly how much to give to their nonprofit of choice. Once they make their online donation, they are immediately sent a donation receipt or thank you letter that they file away to report on their taxes. Johnson notes that it is important to know the difference between donating to an organization’s restricted funds like a specific program, verses donating to their operational funds by giving an unrestricted gift. But she notes that there’s always someone from the nonprofit to answer questions and walk you through your gift.

Sarah Marsom’s Tiny Activist dolls enabled her to give ten scholarships in the first two years of the project.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Marsom.

For her Tiny Activist Project, Marsom took a unique path and partnered with a statewide nonprofit as her fiscal agent. The nonprofit holds and distributes the scholarship funds, and also handles taxes for the initiative. Scholarship recipients fill out paperwork detailing their conference expenses and submit proof of receipts. Marsom calls it a wonderful relationship, but also notes that partnering with fiscal agent can add an addition 5-10% fee to cover the cost of managing the fund. Marsom also suggests that small craft business owners who are intimidated by bookkeeping seek out workshops or conferences like Midwest Craft Con that offer classes on taxes.

Making a difference in more ways than one

Donating a portion of the proceeds of your craft business to a nonprofit helps ensure the success of important community organizations. But craft businesses can also consider making equally valuable in-kind donations to nonprofits. Would Works receives donations from a lumberyard and even has their shop space donated from a local architecture company. When a laser engraver was donated to Would Works, it allowed them increase sales. “Now that we can offer custom branding, we get larger wholesale orders that provide more guaranteed income which means we can provide more workshops and employ more artisans,” said Buchanan.

It’s easier than ever to donate to nonprofits, and the rewards to charities and businesses are mutually beneficial. As Virginia Johnson said, “I think there’s an idea that retail is just for profit, and [donations are] a nice healthy reminder that we’re all in it together.”

Gather Here makes financial donations to nonprofits, but also makes in-kind gifts like these dopp kits filled with toiletries.

Photo courtesy of Gather Here.

Giving as your business model

Here are the steps to take when determining how to incorporate charitable giving into your business model:

  • Choose a charity that’s meaningful to you and your business. Confirm that the charity is registered for fundraising in all of the states where the offer will be made.
  • Research the charity through a nonprofit data website like Guidestar to ensure that the organization is a legitimate and healthy nonprofit.
  • Consider how your business could benefit the cause. Will you create a specific product or service and donate a percentage of the proceeds, or would you rather donate a portion of the proceed from a product you already sell? Will you suggest that customers make a donation at checkout? Would you like to hold an auction for a special item?
  • Consider the timeframe for your benefit. Will you make your donations monthly, quarterly, or annually?
  • Share your story, and the story of your chosen charity, through your marketing channels, but don’t expect the charity to do the same. Charities are tax-exempt organizations are therefore limited in the kinds of marketing they can do for for-profit businesses. They can publicly acknowledge a sponsor’s support through a thank you message, but your business should do the marketing of the offer.

If you do decide to donate a portion of the proceed of your sales to charity, don’t be vague. Disclose exactly how much of each dollar will be donated and on what date. If you’re using a percentage, make it a percentage of the retail price, not a percentage of the proceeds or profits.

Laura McDowell Hopper

Laura McDowell Hopper

Social Media Manager and Staff Writer

Laura is our Social Media Manager and Staff Writer. Her work has appeared in Curated Quilts, Modern Patchwork, Quiltfolk, QuiltCon Magazine, and more. She is also an award-winning curator focused on textile preservation, an avid quilter, and a volunteer on nonprofit quilt boards. Laura believes that every crafter has an interesting story to tell, and she is committed to telling those stories elegantly and rigorously. She lives near Chicago, Illinois.

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