charity work

Multiple hurricanes wiped out power grids and entire island nations. The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history rocked our world. Earthquakes shook Mexico to its core, and raging wildfires left California bare. Not to be downers, but turn to the news on any given day, and the state of our world feels rather grim. When witnessing such devastation and destruction, most of us feel compelled to help. Yet following that impulse often comes with a question: What can I do? If you’re a nail tech, the answer is a lot.

You have the ability to raise funds and awareness simply by doing what you do best: welcoming people into your salon and showcasing your skills, all in the name of charity. Feeling inspired to host your own humanitarian event but unsure of where to start? Here, our comprehensive guide to coordinating a flawless fundraiser, from start to finish.

Choose a Charity

There are many factors to consider when deciding who you want to help. Just make sure you know exactly who you’ll be aiding and how they will benefit from your efforts. “Before committing, first do your research by vetting the institution online and through word- of-mouth recommendations,” advises Hillary Fry, nail artist and owner of Scenario Hair Design in Shorewood, Wisconsin, who has worked closely with Operation Stardust to collect unused greeting cards and stationery, which are then given to terminally ill patients to leave messages for their loved ones. “Some give a lesser percentage of totals raised, and you don’t want to learn too late about a conflict of values.”

The charity’s tax status is another important consideration. “Contributions are only tax deductible when you donate to a legitimate 501(c)(3) organization, which is a corporation or establishment deemed exempt from federal income tax by the U.S. government,” explains Carol Bates, enrolled agent at Accounting & Income Tax Solutions in Saraland, Alabama. “One of the biggest mistakes I see in my business is clients trying to deduct endowments from GoFundMe and other crowdfunding groups.”

If you want to get a tax break for your efforts, ask if the charity is a bona fide nonprofit. Or, visit the IRS Charities & Other NonProfits Database (irs.gov/charities-non-profits). “There, you can search for charities via name or tax ID number to ascertain their status,” notes Jenny Mosier, lawyer and executive director of the Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland. Other online resources include Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (give.org/for-donors/).

Save the Date

When scheduling your event, be sure that you won’t have to compete for guests because of religious, federal or state holidays, or popular cultural affairs. Marc Barr, nail tech at Above All Grand Salon & Spa in Wexford, Pennsylvania, learned that lesson the hard way when the gala he’d spent months planning coincided with opening day for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I didn’t quite get the big turnout numbers I’d been hoping for,” says the pro. This is another area where a little research can go a long way. “Before booking, review community calendars to avoid any major conflicts with other happenings in your area that could negatively impact participation,” recommends Jaime Schrabeck, PhD, educator and owner of Precision Nails in Carmel, California.

Plan Your Party

Now comes the fun part! What type of fundraising fête do you want to throw? The possibilities are endless, though generally divided into two categories:

Service-Specific: Think the mani version of a cut-a-thon, wherein techs volunteer their time and talents, with all proceeds going to charity. Laura Merzetti, owner of Scratch My Back Nail Studio in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, participates in an annual Pay It Forward Day. “Participants sign up to receive CND Shellac or Vinylux manicures, and profits assist the charity of their choice,” she explains.

As facilitator, take care to first determine the portion of proceeds that you want to donate, and be transparent with that number. “If you intend to pledge 10 percent of sales and you take in $1,000 worth of services, make a show of announcing at evening’s end that your foundation will receive a gift totaling $100,” urges Mosier. Clarity goes a long way toward generating future goodwill among generous customers.

It’s also essential to be forthright regarding tax write-offs. “Because you, as the salon owner, are gathering all of the money and cutting the check, you are, in effect, making a personal bestowal on behalf of your business, which means that in this setup, you’re the only one eligible to file for a tax deduction,” Mosier specifies. Attendees can’t claim their service as a write-off, despite the fact that they got lacquered for a worthy cause.

Event-Based: This includes festivities like auctions, polish swaps and beauty nights. Revelers buy tickets in advance or pay a cover charge for an evening of gift-garnering or pampering, which may include manicures, pedicures, mini massages and other salon services. Typically lively, such soirees feature food, a band or DJ spinning tunes, plus raffles for prizes—all of which may be donated. For instance, the Nail Tech Event of the Smokies is a day-long networking event coordinated by Jill Wright that brings techs, instructors and nail companies together for education and fun in the Kentucky sun. This year, Wright also sold raffle tickets for a large basket of donated Thistle Farms natural body products. Full proceeds benefitted the Thistle Farms two-year residential program, which aids women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction.

With these types of events, participants may be able to claim a tax deduction on items purchased at auction or in a raffle, but only over the amount of fair market value. “In other words, if you bid on a $50 spa mani-pedi package and win it for $75, you may only claim a deduction on your taxes of $25, because you are still receiving—and will presumably be enjoying—an item worth $50,” Mosier explains.

Set Goals

Determine a ballpark amount that you hope to raise from service costs or ticket sales. For this, systematization is crucial. Draw up a comprehensive list of costs that you foresee incurring, then highlight any items that might be provided by potential sponsors. But remember, it’s not only about money. “When projecting profits, be realistic,” Schrabeck advises. “Even if your event falls short of expectations, at minimum, expenses should be covered, and you’ll have raised awareness for a charitable cause.”

Pitch Patrons

Businesses, both big and local, are often willing to aid enterprises they deem deserving—one need only ask, and such sponsors are invaluable in lessening the brunt of an organizer’s financial investment. “I go door-to-door seeking donations, cold-call the big luxury brands from Coach to Prada asking if they’d like to send raffle items, hit up restaurants for complimentary refreshments and line up neighborhood bands willing to play in exchange for exposure,” says Barr, who’s planned philanthropic initiatives to help find a cure for cancer, multiple sclerosis and spina bifida, among others. “One hundred percent of my [fundraising] parties get put on for free.”

Contact nail companies and ask them to donate lacquer, tools and gift certificates that can comprise desirable gift baskets. Schrabeck further suggests sweetening the pot by soliciting in-kind services: “For example, get the printing of promotional materials donated by publicizing the printer as a sponsor on the announcements.”

Make Some Noise

When the time comes to drum up PR, channel your inner “Mad Men.” “It’s not a passive effort,” says Fry. “There are multiple means by which to market an event, so use every resource at your disposal.” For starters, you can hang posters and pledge sheets inside your salon at least two months ahead to grab customers’ attention, and pepper the neighborhood with fliers. Ask your charity to mail written information regarding their work, which can double as promotional assets. “I’ll get pamphlets from Susan G. Komen about the importance of mammogram screening to share with clients and spark conversation about an upcoming breast cancer benefit,” says Barr.

Utilize social media and other online marketing avenues as well by creating unique Twitter and Instagram hashtags and using them often to generate engagement. Create a page on your spa’s website dedicated to hyping the ceremony and providing relevant details, which can be removed post-party. “Online scheduling might also get temporarily tweaked,” notes Fry. “Block out a service and specify the chunk being given as a donation, so clients have a clear sense of how handouts are being used.” Send emails to your contact list; don’t spam or overwhelm them, but do use it as a way to share and remind them. Produce videos to put on YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, too, and include links to those videos on all mobile communications. Post regular updates on both your salon website and social media sites in the pre-party weeks and days.

Don’t forget to get people talking in the salon, too. “Never underestimate the power of speech,” says Fry. “Despite our advanced technology and numerous forms of social intelligence, personal connection is often still the most effective.” Have staff verbally discuss event info with clients during appointments. “When it’s time to pay, take the opportunity to tell customers that in lieu of tipping, they can contribute to the group you’re supporting,” notes Deanna White Stelmaschuk, owner of The Soho Studio in Fairview, Alberta, Canada.

You could even get on the air—contact local TV and radio stations, and ask to speak with whoever handles public service announcements (PSAs). Most require up to 30 days of advance notice and may want to receive requests in writing. To increase the odds of media exposure, stir excitement with the promise of a famous face. National organizations typically have connections to celebrities, so see if they can suggest a pro athlete, politician, media personality or actor who’d be interested in making an appearance. Or look to local heroes rather than an actual movie star; for example, ask your town mayor to pop the champagne bottle or do the ribbon-cutting. “Successful ceremonies require thorough planning, adequate promotion and a unique experience for guests,” sums up Schrabeck.

Do the Math

People can get funny when it comes to money. Be meticulous, upfront and sensitive with entrusted funds. “Don’t take this responsibility lightly,” emphasizes Wright. “Make sure every step you take is legal, moral and ethical.” Spreadsheets are key for tracking revenue. “Take notes and keep precise records regarding who gave what,” encourages Bates. Mobile payment companies like Square now exist to facilitate ease of processing payments, as transactions get completed quickly and securely and the platform is easy to navigate. Avoid mixing donations with regular business revenue by opening a temporary savings account in the names of your salon and charity, which you can close with a money order made payable to that organization. Presenting it live to a rep from the group you’re working with is a nice touch.

In terms of related legalities, it’s better to be safe than sorry. “The IRS requires proof of all aid made,” says Bates. “If donating cash, get a signed statement from the charity showing the date, your amount and their tax ID number.” Often the IRS will ask for cancelled checks to prove a gift, so save those with bank statements for at least seven years. If delivering goods, get a receipt along with signed documentation detailing the specifics of what was given, plus their value.

Feeling overwhelmed? White suggests starting small by helping with other charitable efforts to learn the ropes before spearheading your own. “Bottom line: No one should undertake any kind of fundraising initiative without a commitment to excellence, integrity and transparency,” Schrabeck says. “Your participants, sponsors, volunteers and donors must trust you implicitly.”

–by Francesca Moisin

[Images: top Getty Images, bottom courtesy of City of Hope]

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of NAILPRO.

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