This past weekend I dropped off a customized mini book as a prize to be given away to a lucky local NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) participant. The book cover shows the abbreviated name of the group (Loco FoCo NaNo) and the year 2011. There are 8 one-inch ivory cardstock pages inside and the back has been embossed with a leaf pattern. It was a good creative challenge for me to see just how many letters I could stamp on a metal blank, as well as to come up with a design that was gender- and age-neutral, given the wide variety of participants.
It feels good to be able to contribute to the community in a small way, especially when the organization is so enthusiastic about your work. Donations also can be a good way to gain new customers. I've received increased site traffic and custom orders as a result of previous donations to other organizations. (Be sure to include your business card with any donation!)
On the other hand, I've heard complaints from crafters who are overrun with such requests. I know that it can be hard to turn people away. I hate saying no to worthy causes, but there is no way that I can say yes to them all and still run a viable business and have a relatively sane home life.
Tips for Selecting Charities
I've found that the key for me is to selectively pick organizations that are a strong match for my product or that have a personal connection to my life. I make and sell writer-related jewelry and gifts, so writing organizations are a natural fit for me. I also prefer to support my local community, rather than national groups. That's a fairly narrow, manageable field of possibilities. I try to take the proactive approach, as I did with the local chapter of NaNoWriMo, and find organizations I want to support and approach them, rather than waiting to be asked.
Organizations where I have a personal connection via a family member or friend are a bit trickier. It's like deciding where to spend the holidays; someone is not going to be happy with your decision no matter how hard you try. For those situations, you may be able to rotate your support every other year or donate something small and simple. Or maybe there's something else you can offer them. I try to hold a firm limit on how many handcrafted donations I'll make during the year (usually only one or two). If there's another organization I want to support after that, then I might volunteer my time or contribute in another way.
I'd love to hear how you work with charities and which ones you support! Feel free to include websites in your comments, so we can learn more about them.