"Please Don't Cash Our Check" as a Donation Request
November 20, 2017 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I have been asked to help write a letter from our church to an entity that rents space from us, requesting a donation. It requires a high level of finesse, and I'm stumped. Can you help?

A neighboring business rents space from the church. They pay for the space in advance, six months at a time. The have just notified the church that they will be moving (not going out of business - they are growing and need a larger space), so the church owes them a partial refund on their advance payment. It amounts to somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars.

The church lost a few major donors in the last year (either via the passing of the member, or by virtue of people moving). Whereas in previous years the water was just about at our neck, this year has been tough and the water is over our heads a bit.

The idea was floated that maybe we should ask the business to donate the balance due to them back to the church (or, in reference to the post title, to ask that they simply do not cash our check). The finance team is split; some people think there's no harm in asking, the worst that can happen is the business will say no and we all move on. The other half of the team has turned up their noses at this idea, saying that it's just not how business is done. Fwiw, I am not on the finance team, so I don't have a dog in that fight.

A member of the team approached me and asked if I could draft a letter that the reluctant team members might be willing to go along with. There is a difficulty in that it has be worded very subtly in order to avoid the appearance of any sort of coercion; also, I don't have all of the details to explain why but our church would prefer that the donation be made to our local site rather than the larger national organization. I don't know for a fact but I suspect that our local church owes money to the national org, but wants to retain the donation for our on-site bills. Again, I don't have the true details.

I am usually pretty good at writing business letters, even difficult letters where the recipient is being notified that they will lose money. I rarely have a complaint from those letters, so I'm confident in my ability to balance emotions and business realities. But I do not have experience in asking people for money, so I could use some direction.
posted by vignettist to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is the money contractually due back to the business, or is it simply that they won’t be utilizing that space? I know when renting, landlords were able to hold onto the deposit while they looked for new tenants. Is there some legal wiggle room?
posted by corb at 1:58 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]


Dear Neighborhood Business,

Our records indicate that you have a balance of $X remaining for the remainder of your winter rental period. Please let us know if you would prefer that to be refunded as a check or as a receipt for an equivalent tax-deductible donation to our XYZ fund.

Cheers,

Finance Team
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:59 PM on November 20 [60 favorites]


Is it in your lease agreement that you will refund them the money if they leave before the lease is up? That's unclear from your question. In many cases with commercial leases, you pay six months upfront specifically because of cashflow issues such as these. Rent is rent, whether they stay for the duration is not relevant. If that is the case, you don't owe them a letter at all. That's not how business is done.

If it's in the lease that they will be refunded the prorated portion of the rent, NSAID has a great template for you to use.
posted by juniperesque at 2:15 PM on November 20 [18 favorites]


(The more aggressive version involves a straight up "Would you consider" fundraising appeal, as in "In lieu of a refund, would you consider making a tax-deductible donation to our year-end program fund?", or "...would you consider partnering with us as we do X, Y, & Z in the local community by donating these funds to our XYZ program?", etc. This approach may be too bold to win over additional team members but run with it if you think it'll help.)
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:28 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]


...this sounds borderline sketchy because of the lack of information about the donation to your national org. It’s typically somewhat frowned upon to write checks and give the appearance of paying someone in order to fool or deceive someone else you owe money to.

I’d take a big step back from what sounds like an unhealthy situation. You all need a lawyer and you need a real plan for getting out of debt.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:55 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


I think this is a bad idea. If I were the business being asked to donate, I'm also being asked to give up, or at least render nebulous, the possible tax benefit. Because if I agree to do this, I am not going to have the benefit of a payment to the church; only a forgiven debt. It could possibly be covered with a letter from the church acknowledging the forgiveness of the debt, but I'd much rather have the outgoing check to the church in my ledger.

You've also raised the possibility of shenanigans with the national organization. Not knowing the organization or its rules, I don't know if this is an issue or not, but it does seem irregular.

Color me "that's not the way business is done."
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:13 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


Are the people who own the business connected to your church besides just renting space? Because if I got this letter and I wasn’t a member of the church, I’d be telling this story as a Can you believe the nerve of these people? Their saying no isn’t the worst thing that can happen. This is potentially damaging to your church’s reputation.
posted by FencingGal at 3:16 PM on November 20 [14 favorites]


Our food coop returns dividends every year and I get a letter that asks me if I want my dividend in a check form or if I do nothing by X date it goes back to the coop.

So maybe something like 'Thank you for your partnership to date; we appreciate your being our neighbor! X dollars is owed to you at this time; please sign below to receive a check in this amount. If you would like to instead donate this money to the church, we would be grateful for your donation, as always. Please return the form by January 1st and have a beautiful holiday season!'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:35 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


This is definitely not "how business is done," even by fundraising professionals. Don't allow the finance team to fool themselves into thinking this is a brilliant fundraising strategy - it's a lifeline, basically, and it won't do anything to solve what seem to be some pretty serious long-term funding issues.

That said, it's also not a terrible thing to ask - just don't assume the business will go along with it. Ask politely (I like NSAID's second draft), but don't count on it to save the church.

If I were the business being asked to donate, I'm also being asked to give up, or at least render nebulous, the possible tax benefit. Because if I agree to do this, I am not going to have the benefit of a payment to the church; only a forgiven debt. It could possibly be covered with a letter from the church acknowledging the forgiveness of the debt, but I'd much rather have the outgoing check to the church in my ledger.

I don't think this should be a huge barrier, but you can proactively offer to write a letter indicating that the forgiven debt was a donation if you'd like. This is definitely a "known"form of donation. That part isn't what's weird - the weird part is the fact that the church is asking for a pretty large donation as a one-off, with no stewardship of or relationship-building with the donor. (If the church leadership has no idea what donor stewardship or relationship-building means, well, then - there's your problem)
posted by lunasol at 4:48 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]


This feels super shady to me. If someone contractually owed me money and tried to pull some "Oh, how do you feel about donating it to us?" BS, I would not only turn down their "offer", but I would find them extremely unprofessional and probably never donate money to that organization again. Please keep commercial real estate transactions separate from your fundraising.
posted by ktkt at 4:59 PM on November 20 [8 favorites]


If contractually they are due the money, I would not be surprised that receiving that check has been calculated into their moving plans.
posted by tman99 at 5:26 PM on November 20


If the Church is renting space to businesses then the church is operating as a business. If the lease stated the unused rent will be refunded then the advanced rent should have been placed in escrow and not used as income until the months rent was due.
posted by tman99 at 7:46 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]


Our food coop returns dividends every year and I get a letter that asks me if I want my dividend in a check form or if I do nothing by X date it goes back to the coop.

I believe this is different, in that members of a co-op collectively benefit from dividends being left in the system/returned to the general fund. And presumably, most dividends are relatively small amounts of money. Unearned rent owed to a 3rd party with no other connection to the church, however - that's a pretty big grab to try an "assumptive close" on...
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:16 PM on November 21


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