Arthur’s Blog

When is a Parking Spot is More Valuable Than a Donation to a Charity?

Being a part of the charity Never Had a Bad Day is one of my personal and professional joys. It has offered me the opportunity to use my business acumen and personal creativity in the service of a uniquely worthy cause – supporting families who are battling pediatric cancer.

As many of you may know, the mission of NHBD is to help families who are caring for a child hospitalized with cancer. Founded with my friend and business associate Erik Baylis, the foundation works to relieve the everyday financial strains on a family so they might focus on treatment and supporting the child with a positive, forward-leaning attitude.

When we were in the planning stages of Never Had a Bad Day, my initial thoughts focused on cash donations and who in my contact list I could approach. As someone new to serving the needs of a charitable community, I just assumed that raising cash was the best way to offer value.

Now two years into the journey, I’ve come to realize that I can often generate more value for the families we support by leveraging my professional skill and creativity, rather than simply knocking on doors for donations.

Here’s an example. For many months we’ve listened to families share their tales about the small things that sap their financial strength, creating stress for everyone. For example, to park downtown to visit a child receiving cancer treatment might cost $20 to $30 dollars for each car and each visit. If you’ve got family members driving in from differing locations, the out-of-pocket expense can quickly explode into hundreds of dollars within a week or two.

Now, think about parking spaces in a commercial parking lot.  If a space sits empty for an hour, two hours, or a day, the potential revenue from that spot is lost forever!  Parking lot owners have a strong interest in filling those spots at virtually any price, rather than to see them go empty.

So, on the one hand you’ve got families for whom a $20 parking fee means a great deal, and a parking lot owner who knows that they have empty spots in several lots within walking distance of a pediatric cancer care facility.  In my mind there should be a way for both parties to benefit.

Of course, the mechanical parking ticket vending machines can’t discern the personal, incremental value of a spot to someone who drives up in their car. To the machine, it’s $20 to park or you don’t park, no matter how many empty spaces there are in the garage. 

My solution was to approach corporate owners of multiple parking lots in the city and ask them to donate free parking passes for use by families with children in the hospital. While the parking company would not receive cash for the parking pass, they might very well receive a valuable tax deduction for the donation.  I cannot speak definitively to the tax law, as I am not a certified accountant, but it seems reasonable to me that the market value of that donated spot would be $20 precisely because that family would have been charged $20, if they paid for parking in that exact same spot.

Rather than cajoling a one-time $500 donation check from the parking company, doing a deal creates the possibility of an ongoing relationship that could benefit NHBD families to the tune of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars!

While an agreement has not yet been finalized, I think this mental exercise suggests how the most valuable donation to the charity of your choice might not be dollars, but rather the creativity and experience that you can bring to bear. Your skill as a successful professional, business owner, educator or spiritualist might just be the most valuable thing you can offer.