Special Events

Rental Essentials: Sweet Charity

GIVE FREE OR discounted rentals in order to benefit a charity? “No, that's where we make our money!” says one East Coast full-line rental firm.

On the other hand, most party rental firms interviewed for this month's “Rental Essentials” provide discounted or sometimes even free rentals to support local charities, both for altruistic and business reasons.

WHEN'S THE PARTY?

Atlanta-based Party Plus helps out up to 20 events a year with either free or discounted rentals, according to general manager Brenda McGlone.

Charities have their best shot at Party Plus' largesse if they meet certain criteria, notably if they stage the event in the off-season — which means April, May and September through December — serve the local community and assist children. Even if Party Plus can't justify donating rentals to a charity, it may offer cost-saving suggestions, such as offering to charge less if the charity can pick up and return rental items.

Besides doing good, Party Plus wants some beneficial exposure from its charity work. But McGlone acknowledges that payback can be hard to measure.

“It's very difficult to measure the payback from your donations, other than tracking gift certificates that you donate to silent auctions, and what you hear from people on committees or boards, and how you're regarded in your market,” she says. “There's really no evident way of tracking this.”

THE COMPETITIVE EDGE

All Occasions Event Rental, based in Cincinnati, offers a 10 percent discount to charities that request it, “especially if we know we are bidding against other companies,” explains Robert Hughes, director of special events.

All Occasions supports several of the same charities year after year. “We have a couple of organizations who have been very loyal to our company for many years, and they get a larger discount,” Hughes says. “Their loyalty means so much to our company; it is a win-win situation for everyone. These are typically large events, and it allows us the opportunity to add equipment to our inventory at the same time as servicing their needs.”

However, the company also will work with newcomers “if they fit our niche,” Hughes explains. He requires a detailed proposal: “If a job is very labor-intensive, then additional labor charges could be necessary. That is why we need all the facts before making the determination what kind of discount is appropriate.”

Hughes notes that All Occasions has put its own festive spin on a charitable program that has been in place for the last dozen years.

“We offer the ability for customers to rent a flock of flamingos — yes, the plastic, tacky ones placed on the lawn from the 1950s,” he explains. “The customer can rent from 25 to 1,000 of the birds for placement in a friend's front yard on their 50th birthday or other important date. The customer makes a check payable to their charity of choice, and we then forward that check to the charity after the items are returned. The higher the number of birds, the higher the check!”

The flamingo fund-raiser has paid off for the party rental operator in several ways, Hughes says: “It has been a way for us to give back a little to the community, and we have gotten some positive press out of it as well.”

SPREADING IT AROUND

Celebrations Party Rentals, based in Flemington, N.J., has a strong commitment to local charities. According to president Megan Jones, all nonprofits receive a 10 percent discount, and a handful of charities receive free rentals under $100 based on their equipment needs and the time of year they need the donation. Finally, CPR gives deeper discounts to about six events each year with which the rental firm has a strong relationship.

CPR considers a number of factors before lending a charity its support, including whether the event is staged annually, the time of year it is staged, the perceived value the event has for CPR, equipment required, client or employee involvement with the charity, and — “finally and most important, what the charity has to offer as far as recognition via a logo on a T-shirt, an ad in the program and so on,” Jones says.

She emphasizes the importance of relationships. “You tend to do more for a nonprofit if you have a strong personal relationship with the contact,” she explains. “We have a very strong relationship with the American Cancer Society since the local director and I became friends through another organization. We helped her start the local Relay for Life Campaign and have supported it ever since. This event became even more special to me since last year my father was diagnosed with cancer. CPR not only donated to the event, but all our employees walked on his behalf.”

While it's great to help a worthy cause, Jones sounds a note of caution. “Giving is a double-edged sword,” she says. “Once you give, you're on the hit list. You have to be fair across the board with giving. Then for the few you really want to support, establish guidelines and stand behind them so you don't get caught in a situation that may be compromising.”

RESOURCES: All Occasions Event Rental, 513/563-0600; Celebration Party Rentals, 908/735-7368; Party Plus, 404/351-9222

See this story on the Web at www.specialevents.com, a marketingclick.com site.

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