Although many businesses have tight budgets during the recession, one Maine nonprofit has had a threefold increase in in-kind donations from its corporate supporters.

The Nature Conservancy’s Maine chapter saw businesses donate goods and services at an unprecedented rate last year, a time when many didn’t have much to spare. Businesses donated nearly $150,000 worth of their wares, 20 percent more than the chapter’s next highest year for in-kind donations.

Firewood, advertising space, wine, kayaks, food, car rentals and more were donated by the roughly 100 members of the group’s Corporate Conservation Council, the organization’s corporate giving arm.

Those things might not seem useful, but Bruce Kidman, director of external affairs for The Nature Conservancy, said donations hardly ever go unused.

“If they have a service we would be going out and needing anyway, this a nice match for our work,” Kidman said. “In that case, dollars and services are really the same thing.”

Kayaks might be used in efforts to monitor the ecosystems of the more than 100 protected islands off the coast of Maine, while donated food might feed people at a lunchtime meeting, he said.

Sterling Rope Co. in Biddeford donated rope to The Nature Conservancy. John Branagan, the company’s director of marketing, said rope can come in handy for towing trash from an area or marking a trail.

“As rope manufacturers, we fully understand the value of a good piece of rope,” Branagan said.

Sterling has donated to The Nature Conservancy in the past and intends to donate in the future, he said, because land conservation is important to the company.

The growth of in-kind donations makes sense, said Scott Schnapp, the Maine Association of Nonprofits’ executive director, but he doesn’t think it’s part of a larger trend.

“If you don’t have money, you can get a tax deduction to donate items if they’re of use,” he said.

Donors are giving the same amounts, or more, as they did before the recession, he said, but they are narrowing their giving by donating to fewer organizations.

In-kind donations are good for business, said Melissa Rock, marketing director for the Shawnee Peak ski area, which donated lift tickets and venue space to The Nature Conservancy. The donation brings in people who might not have visited Shawnee Peak or haven’t visited in a while, she said.

“It’s a way for us to show these people who are environmentally minded that we are too, so when you do make the decision to go skiing, this is a place that’s like-minded,” she said.

Shawnee donated last year for the first time, both cash and in-kind. The Nature Conservancy held a meeting at the ski lodge for young professionals, who had lunch and went skiing.

Rock said the donation directly helped the group recruit young members and gave them a memorable experience on the slopes.

“People aren’t accumulating stuff so much. They’re accumulating experiences,” she said. “If we get 10 percent of those people back, we’re happy.”

Beyond providing things that are needed, Kidman said, donated services help build relationships with companies that support the cause. “We’re happy for that support, but it also gives us access to a lot of good people.”

 

Staff Writer Stephanie Hardiman can be contacted at 791-6301 or at: [email protected]