It’s come to this: Restaurants are so inundated by requests for donations that a company has come up with a technology that enables operators to track and manage their charitable giving. We’re not endorsing this product, even though right now the makers of the interactive Auction Item Request System (AIRS) say they are giving it away free to restaurant operators. But we’re strongly endorsing the idea of restaurant operators having a better handle on their charitable giveaways—both the who-gets-what and the how-much—and, particularly, of gaining control of the in-person and telephone solicitation that never seems to stop.
Charitable organizations of all stripes face shrinking revenues in the current economic climate. Many individuals simply no longer have the money to give. Financial uncertainty causes others to skip or cut back on charitable donations until the future becomes clearer. And many, many foundations whose grants traditionally made up the slack at charitable organizations have seen the value of their endowments shrink as of late. They’ve reacted by shortening their list of grant recipients, reducing the size of their grants, or both.
In times like these, charitable organizations turn with ever more frequency to restaurant operators, many of whom were already receiving hundreds of requests per month before the economy went sour. The restaurant industry is notoriously accommodating to charitable and community groups. But even the most generous operators can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of requests.
What to do? Automate. That’s the idea online auction platform outfit cMarket/BiddingForGood has come up with. The company’s main business involves connecting charity auctions, consumers and commercial item donors, so the AIRS system isn’t that big of a leap. It operates through the restaurant’s individual website, so right now there aren’t any hidden costs or fees involved.
Here’s a quote about what AIRS does from Mary Catherine Deibel, owner of Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge, MA: “Not only does the system give us an organized view of evaluating donation requests and fulfilling them in an orderly and timely way, but it also helps us to keep track over the year how much and what we have donated and to whom,” she says. “We have gone from an anecdotal and disorganized system of donations to one we feel in control of. It also sends inquiring minds to our website—always a good thing.
“We recommend it highly for all those restaurateurs who often felt, as we did, overwhelmed by the numbers of requests, and how to handle them.”
An even-better feature, cMarket/BiddingForGood says, is that their system provides a user-friendly experience for the person who’s asking for the donation. They’ll find out right away where their request stands, as the system generates an approval letter or letter of decline in short order. The key here for operators: an end to in-person or phone solicitations. All you have to do is refer donation seekers to your website, where their request is a hands-off experience for you. Most operators will tell you this is perhaps the key benefit of the AIRS approach.
What’s in it for cMarket/BiddingForGood? They hope to make hay with the charities restaurants turn down. The company describes it this way:
“For those requests which are denied, not all is lost. Within the response letter is an offer from BiddingForGood to find donated items for them. The organization will then have an opportunity to run an online auction with BiddingForGood, using supplied donated items, including many luxury brands, in effort to raise funds for their organization.”
Again, we are not endorsing the Auction Item Request System, even though its developer is giving it away to restaurant operators. But if you’re looking for a way to solve a big administrative headache while simultaneously insulating yourself from the daily barrage of “pleasantly persistent” fundseekers, it might be worth a look.