Friday, July 22, 2011

How to Get Free Stuff

The following is a piece that I wrote for an upcoming edition of Food Service News. For those of you out of the States, this is a publication in Minnesota that adresses pretty much every topic in the Hospitality Industry.

Klecko's job for this pub is to basically talk about making money.




“Hello Klecko here, can I help you?”

The voice of a young woman who I’ve never met before replied.

“Hello, we are putting together a special event that will be hosted by Chevy Chase, and I am going to need you to donate the hamburger buns?”

Does anybody else get these phone calls on a daily basis, or am I the only one?

I get it, the world is constantly in flux and business strategies have changed, but ever since the economy went south it seems as if people no longer ask for donations, but demand them with a sense of entitlement.
Most people in the service industry are passionate about causes and would like to support their community’s events as well, but doling out donations has actually become somewhat complex.

I also think it’s safe to say that most purveyors desire to help out their accounts, but there really needs to be a method to this madness. If businesses gave donations to every person that requested them, many concepts would go out of business.

Concepts that used to get hit up for freebies on a weekly basis are now dealing with these demands several times each day.

Over the last couple of months I have talked to numerous chefs, bakers, F&B’s and food reps and you know what? None of them had identical procedures for handling these situations.

Can it be that Uncle Klecko will have to determine industry protocol?
Well……I hope not, but submitted below are some pitfalls to avoid, and solutions that will hopefully make this new business standard a win-win for all parties concerned.

Many Companies Set Annual Donation Budgets and nine out of ten times the contact person who calls looking for a donation will do so within three days of their event. Companies don’t typically like to get short notice orders. If you send a request about one month before you need it, often times the decision making personal will be grateful.

If your event is annual, make the potential sponsor aware of this. Who knows, they may even write you into their annual calendar.

Don’t Leave Anything To Supposition

You’d be amazed at how many people will call me up issuing a verbal request, and when I ask them what kind of numbers they are looking for they’ll respond by asking me how much I will give them.
LOL……C’mon peeps, it doesn’t work that way.
If you are the party asking, the responsibility hinges on you. Often times you might ask for….oh, let’s say $50 worth of product.
More than likely the person fielding your request might not even be the person who can sanction it.

When Should You Ask?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been hit up while sitting in a restaurant or a bar. Often times the owner/chef will approach my table and politely ask me to do a brother a solid.
Friends are allowed to work that way, but when it is a matter of business, the requestor is going to attach accountability to the person donating.
You are far better off sending a written request form. It shows the individual that you are dealing with that this matter is somewhat serious, and it will preclude your needs from accidently being forgotten.

How Often Are You Allowed to Ask?

Just this summer I had an account (who purchases about $100 per week) call me up asking for a $50 donation to support an event that would support the neighborhood they were located in.
I was happy to do it.

Ten days later, the same guy called me up and made the exact same request for a different event he was involved in.
It put me in an awkward position.

How did I respond?

“Brother, you know I am here to help, but Klecko needs a window here. You just asked me twice in ten days to support you. Am I to anticipate another request in a week? Will you be asking me every month?”

The bottom line is if you want to obtain that sort of partnership with anybody, it is always prudent to let them know your intentions as to how much you will be asking for on an annual basis.

Let’s face it, the hospitality industry is fast paced and often time’s concepts have a high turnover rate.
Just this year, one of my accounts that are a sentimental favorite had 3 different employees from their joint hit me up 3 times within a couple of months.

I’ve known these guys for years and I’d be willing to bet a monkey to a dollar that they weren’t Good Cop / Bad Copping me.
Sometimes life just gets crazy.

That’s why I keep a file specifically pertaining to donations. When people make a request, the first thing I do is peruse my columns to make sure charity is staying within reason.
Added Edge

I know in Sunday school they used to preach about giving without expecting anything in return, no offence….but that’s easier to preach when the Vatican is cutting checks for you each month.

Often times people who hit me up promise, guarantee, pledge an oath that they are going to put my bakeries name in a place of high visibility.

Basically they pass on assurance that they are going to be your company’s ambassador which in turn will return your donated sum tenfold.
Don’t make a pledge like that if you are not going to back it up. It is the epitome of insulting.

I’ve spoken with dozens and dozens of classy business people that have given back to their community and I can tell you that never once have I heard of any donator feeling entitled to signage for tossing a person or an event a minor donation.

So return the favor and don’t kid the kidder. Even if the person who donates doesn’t attend your event, often times they’ll know somebody who does.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve been on both sides of these transactions. Over the years I’ve hit up the Minnesota Twins for numerous things to benefit inner city kids.
When I’ve done this, each year I’d call the business office to make sure that my contact was still employed, or still working in the same department, and if the answer is yes. I send a brief paragraph reminding them who I am, who I am asking for, and what I need.
They have been fantastic!

Over the years they have donated tickets, memorabilia and even given my organization a free table at Twins Fest to hand out promotional materials, and of course they sent free admission passes for the kids.
My thought each time I’ve accepted their kindness is how can I take these items without expressing my gratitude?

You would be amazed how good you can make the donating party feel by simply sending them a hand written thank you card.

To be honest, that’s all most people want.


  1. I was on the other end of the donations dilemma.I had a non-profit that had two large annual events and international company guests throughout the year. I walked the requesting donations tight rope and learned some good and sensitive practices. First of all don't assume anything. Just because the owner / manager is a nice person and the company is friendly doesn't mean they are in a position to give. Which means always request with politeness and respect with no assumptions. And like Uncle Klecko says, ask well in advance and have an exact quantity in mind. I found the request was better served if it came in the form of a friendly letter and a phone call. And the last major point for me was to develop mutual relationships. If I received donations from a bakery, I became a walking advertisement for the fabulous baked goods that could be found at that bakery. It's ALL about relationships and reciprocity. We all could use a little help. Right!

  2. Hilton, thanks for representing the otherside of the coin.
    Marina Sophia.....LOL

  3. hello, the hertzel family is having a reunion in two weeks and i need you to donate the hamburger buns AND the lemon thumbprint cookies.