Mountain View Voice

- May 7, 2010

Donating gift certificates helps charities, and businesses, too

by Jennifer Pence

Question: How can a business donate thousands of dollars to charities without incurring any significant costs and possibly find new clients in the process?

Answer: By donating gift certificates to charity auctions.

Vincent Isola of Genesis Photography in Mountain View is one local business owner who has discovered the joys — and business benefits — of donating to charity fundraisers. (Disclaimer: Genesis recently donated gift certificates to a charity fundraiser that I co-chaired.)

Vincent's contributions to charity auctions began years ago when his children's school, McAuliffe Elementary School in Cupertino, was doing a fundraiser. After the event, some parents who also had children at other schools asked him to donate certificates to those fundraisers. From there, requests for donations continued to grow by word of mouth.

In the past year, he has donated to numerous groups, including the Mountain View Educational Foundation, the Glow Foundation, the Burlingame Community for Education, Notre Dame de Namur University, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, the American Cancer Society, and numerous public and private schools throughout the Bay Area.

Over the years, Vincent has made some observations that have allowed him to improve the effectiveness of his contributions. Since he found that auction organizers were sometimes quite harried in organizing and displaying the items, he created an "auction box" that organizers could pick up at his studio that functions as a complete display kit.

It includes a sample album and digital picture frame that display examples of his work in addition to brochures, business cards, the actual gift certificates, and a sheet for recording the name and contact information of the winners. Vincent asks that the auction organizers return this last item with the auction box so that Genesis can follow up with all winners to discuss how and when they might want to redeem their certificates.

"If we didn't follow up right after the event, a few weeks before the holiday season there would be a rush of people trying to redeem certificates for holiday photos, and not everyone could be accommodated," he said. "We do a lot of photo shoots outdoors, and people don't always realize that November is not a good time of year to take an outdoor photo — we can let them know that they would be much better off doing the shoot several months before that."

Today, about 25-30% of new clients coming in to his studio are there because of gift certificates from charity auctions. About three out of five of these clients spend extra money to get additional services and portrait packages. While Vincent readily admits that charity auctions have been good for his business, he emphasizes that, for him, it's still about helping the charities.

"I like the fact that it brings business into the studio, but I also like the fact that it brings money in to the schools and charities, who need it more than ever right now," he said. "I can't flat-out give $1,000 to these groups all the time, but I can give them gift certificates that can bring in that same amount of money at an auction. I feel fortunate to work with people who are doing something good. Even though we're benefiting, too, it just feels like the right thing to do."

To contact Genesis about donating gift certificates to your fundraiser, please call (650) 967-2301.

Mountain View resident Jennifer Pence is founder of the Windmill Giving Circle and founder and owner of Academic Springboard, a tutoring group. If you are a business that is looking for charity events to donate gift certificates to, or you have a business that is "doing well by doing good," please email Jennifer at japence@hotmail.com for possible inclusion in a future article.

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