What's Wrong with May and June?
Ah, the beginning of a new year. The stress of December is behind us, and our inboxes (and junk mail folders) are lighter than they’ve been in the last few months. Our snail mail has dramatically decreased, and those frantic fundraisers have all but disappeared.
As a donor, I’m continually surprised by the December onslaught of solicitations. I realize that 1/3 of all annual giving happens at the end of the calendar year, and so nonprofits gear up (just like retailers) to raise the most money possible during this time period. But why do the nonprofits think that I give — or want to give — my charitable gifts in December?
It seems that the December giving frenzy is self-perpetuating. The big pushes for gifts happen in December, so more money comes in December, so NPOs, seeing that more money comes in at that time of year, direct more resources to December solicitations. It’s kind of a vicious cycle, and it works for many people.
For many of us, though, it doesn’t work at all. In fact, it’s as annoying as my dog Nugget eating my tennis shoes. (!) I understand retailers throwing more resources at the holidays since many people buy their holiday gifts late in the year. But fundraising for nonprofits is different. Do nonprofits need more money in December for some reason, other than for programs specific to the holiday? If I give an organization $500 on December 29th or on January 10th, will their programs run better? Is January money worth less than December money?
Of course not. In fact, because so many of us have gotten used to the December solicitations, we think that we must give in December. It’s true that many nonprofits will solicit donors in December, even though they already gave in June or September. Recurring (monthly) donors are also often pushed hard in December, because their giving is considered a “different type of giving”.
Why do I, and other donors, have to be pushed like crazy during December? Am I missing something?
Here are some reasons why donors might do their giving (only) in December:
December-related personas. Check out this great article from Bloomerang that identifies donors who give in December as “Last Minute Leslie”, “Reminder-Needed Robert”, “Clockwork Carol” and “Waffling Walter”. It’s interesting to note that with the exception of “Clockwork Carol”, who might have a tried and true tradition of doing her charitable giving in December, all of the other personas could easily give at a different time of the year. Would they do so if the solicitations were at a different time of year?
The “season of gratitude”. Everyone’s shopping, giving holiday gifts and celebrating (sort of). December’s the season of gratitude — let’s be grateful and give!
Possible tax benefits. The tax piece is always there and might be applicable to a given donor, but generally, it’s a minor consideration. As any wealth manager will tell you, you don’t give to a charity because of a tax deduction. That might be part of the reason, but it shouldn’t be your driving motivation — even though you might get a tax deduction, it’s rarely close to 100%, and it might even be insignificant. More importantly, any tax benefit is applicable all year long — the only reason to pay attention to it in December is that you didn’t think of it earlier — or because you’re being solicited at that time of year.
I hear that tax thing more often than any other reason for end-of-year giving. However, I’ve scoured lots of “why do folks donate” lists to see how important tax benefits are to giving decisions, and most of them don’t even consider them part of the story. As UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center tells us, there are loads of benefits to giving (5 of the main ones are described here), and like many other “top reasons to give” lists, taxes, and the fact that it’s December aren’t included.
From a charitable organization’s perspective, gifts given during the “regular” year are often even more important than the December gifts. The cash flow of most nonprofits (again, like retailers) assume that most revenue will come at the end of the year, and they budget accordingly. But needs don’t typically abide by a calendar, so many programs might have to wait for their funding until just after December, even though they desperately need the resources in the summer. (Once I learned that this was the case, I started doing my giving at “odd times” during the year — i.e. not December.)
From a donor’s perspective, I like to think of the December holiday season as a time to enjoy friends and family, to relax, to work on projects I didn’t get around to during the year, and to start creatively thinking about my goals and plans for the coming year. In addition, my kids are typically home from school and the household can be even more chaotic than usual. Finally, I spend loads of time in November and December giving thank-you gifts to vendors and professionals (and teachers!) who help us during the year. Because of the solicitation onslaught, any possibility of relaxing in December seems impossible, and those solicitations become annoying instead of compelling.
Here’s an idea. Ask your donors if they’re “Clockwork Carols” and they just give in December because that’s their tradition and what they do. If they are, great.
If, like me, they would prefer to enjoy December without the solicitations, and to be solicited instead at another time of year (in a respectful, authentic way, of course), follow their wishes. It might be that by doing so, you’ll (a) not annoy them in December, (b) raise more money because you have time to have a non-rushed discussion with them, and (c) help the cash flow become more consistent throughout the year.
For your Donor Advised Fund donors, know that there’s absolutely no reason for them to give in December, other than the infrequent donors who give in December because they just do. For your other donors, just ask them when they do their giving. You might be surprised how many of them would be happy to give when your organization needs it most.
I’m Saving Giving by providing a clear path to success, supported by data, statistics, and interviews. You can find more great newsletters like this one here on Philanthropy 451, in my bestselling book, Philanthropy Revolution, or on socials at Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to learn more.