Businesses get hit up for charitable donations all the time, and smaller businesses usually have less budget leniency available for charitable contributions. You must make a compelling case for why your organisation is worthy of the business's time, effort and lost expense. A letter that fully explains your group and its importance is a start. You also must include information on your silent auction event, and specifically state how proceeds will be used. A well-thought out letter that includes this information could be the key to convincing a business to donate to your silent auction.
Open with a specific greeting to the business owner. Do not use a general greeting, such as "Dear Sir," unless you are sending out so many letter requests that personalisation is untenable.
Begin by stating that you are writing on behalf of XYZ organisation and are seeking silent auction items for a specific event. For example, "I am a volunteer with Kids Charity and I'm writing to ask if you are interested in donating an item or service for our upcoming silent auction, which will take place at our annual fund-raising gala on October 15."
Segue into a brief discussion of your organisation and its importance in the community. Mention the populations you serve -- for example, battered women, abandoned pets, children with disabilities, etc. -- and how your organisation's work helps those populations.
Talk about how the silent auction is a vital part of your annual fund-raising efforts to better serve the population. Mention past successes if you have held the event before. Include a line thanking the business owner for his past support of your silent auction, if applicable.
Write that you are grateful for any item or service the company would be generous enough to offer, and mention the company by name in this statement. Add that you can pick up the item or gift token, which takes the onus off of the business owner.
Talk about what you can offer the company in return. For example, promise free advertising by including the business on a list of sponsors. Write that the donation is tax-deductible, if that applies to your charity or group. Mention that, by participating, the business will get community exposure from the large number of attendees. Offer a free ticket to the event to the business owner as well.
Close by thanking the business owner for her time and listing your contact information for the donation. Promise to follow up with the business owner as well.
Print the letter on official organisation letterhead, which will carry more weight than a plain piece of paper.
Keep the donation solicitation to one page or less. Send a thank-you note after the silent auction, thanking the business owner for the generous donation and providing a brief update on the event, such as how much the silent auction raised overall. Keep a list of businesses that have donated in past years and consider calling them instead in subsequent years as a more personal approach to maintaining supporters.
Do not harangue business owners repeatedly for donations. Send the letter, follow up once and then back off if you're not getting a response.