Ask Amy: A small business owner is inundated with requests for donations


Dear Amy: I am a business owner with a small retail store located in an affluent community. We rent our space and our staff includes family members who work for free so we can keep the doors open. The store is a labor of love and a gathering place for community members. However, business is very slow and we are struggling.

The covid years saw us shut down completely (per government mandates) and business was at a complete standstill. Tourists who were our main guests/buyers didn’t come back after covid.

We are constantly approached by local businesses and non-profit organizations looking for donations and sponsorships. These include schools asking for raffle donations, museums asking for three-figure donations for their fundraisers, non-profits raising money for good causes, local theaters and newspapers asking us to buy ads (“just for $275 per week”) and others.

We have always supported them when we could, including giving gift certificates to our store, but now I am devastated. Some days I choose between buying food or gas for my car so I can drive to my other job.

Our business account is empty and all I can do is not cry when asked for donations. They ask in phone calls and then contact in person and via emails, copying others in those emails, making it seem like we are a non-charitable business.

Some of the questioners even commented that we are in “this town” so we must have the money and means to donate. How do I respond to these people? I was always taught “never complain, never explain” and I don’t know how to tell them that I would like to donate but we just can’t.

Our hope is to keep our store for a few more years while our business recovers from the pandemic, but I also fear that we will lose respect from community members who think we are closed-minded and uncharitable. Your advice?

Concerned: My advice is to compose a simple, honest and polite written response: “As our business continues to recover from our extended closure during the pandemic, we find ourselves unable to donate to your very worthy cause. We hope to see you in store very soon.”

I hope your fears about your reputation are an exaggerated response to your affluent surroundings. You have to assume that other local family businesses are stretched thin as well. (Connecting with others at a local small business networking association can help you see that you’re not alone.)

Remember, the people making these requests probably don’t realize that theirs is the fifth “ask” you’re getting this week. A quick, respectful and firm “Sorry – we’re busy so not this year” should send them on their way.

Wait there. You are not alone.

Dear Amy: I live with my daughter and son-in-law in my own private quarters that I paid them to build. My area covers roughly a third of the house.

I try to give them their space and live independently in my accommodation, which is attached by a corridor to their two-storey house. We are a loving family and I have a perfect son in law.

I stated that I would pay one third of the utilities, which included heating, air conditioning and garbage disposal. I am retired and living on social security. They are successful full-time businessmen.

My daughter thinks I should pay half the utilities. Of course I don’t suffer and use the heat and air for comfort. Old people don’t like to shiver all winter or sweat all summer. Is it fair to split the costs 50/50, or should we pay according to our earning capacity?

Cool customer: No, it doesn’t seem fair to split the cost of these utilities 50/50. Nor does it seem fair to pay for utilities based on your income.

The obvious solution (to me) is that you pay one-third of the utilities, since you occupy one-third of the space and are one-third of the occupants. You might consider installing a door between your unit and their house (for energy saving purposes) and perhaps installing a separate meter for your unit.

Dear Amy:Organizer with a problem” conveyed extreme frustration at how their “politically based affinity group” had become dysfunctional. They should use Robert’s rules of order: Make a suggestion, discuss and then vote. This will prevent the minority from running the group.

Been there: I vote “Yes!”

© 2023 by Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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