For those in the fundraising business, the end of year period means the beginning of not just a new year but the large task of reconciling and reporting all that occurred in the previous days, weeks, months and year.

  • How did we do last year compared to the year before?
  • How did our end of year campaigns perform?
  • With so much activity from mid-November through December 31, did we meet our expectations?

In the middle of this reporting craze comes a very important question that extends beyond raw numbers to the efficacy of the end of year campaign itself: was it worth it? Is the end of year period all that it is cracked up to be, or should we temper our expectations for December 2015 and look at the end of year season differently?

According to a recent post in The Agitator, the answer is yes, that the entire notion of an end of year season or the concept of end of year fundraising is a myth.

This sparked a lively debate among strategists and consultants at Blackbaud, both agreeing and disagreeing with some of the post’s comments. We agree the emphasis should be on donor behavior, that non-profits should cater to their donors and what works for them, not some plan that is convenient for us. And we wholeheartedly agree that the worst reason for doing anything is because you did it that way last year, and last year worked, so why change? That logic…well, isn’t really logic.

However, there was plenty we disagreed with from The Agitator’s post.

Below are takeaways from an internal conversation that happened among those who work with nonprofits everyday, well beyond just year-end campaigns. It’s worth noting that the while majority of us specialize in digital fundraising, thus naturally skew towards believing in end of year fundraising because of the huge spike in online transactions in December, our conversation went beyond just the online channel.

Coordinated Giving Days Can Spike Donations

I too find tax deduction one of the weakest reasons for donors to give, even at end of year. Most people aren’t giving gifts big enough to deduct them, so it really isn’t typically an incentive. With the right campaign, call to action, and marketing plans,  an organization can offer donors a compelling reason to give and see a spike in donations any time of year. This is what Giving Tuesday is all about, really: a coordinated day/campaign for giving. – Danielle Johnson, Senior Interactive Consultant

Responding to Deadlines is Our Nature

Sure, colleges and universities see a bump in April, May and June, but does that mean there is a “Fiscal Year-End Myth”? Schools are calling, emailing, and mailing as much or more during this time just as other organizations are stressing end of year giving. If anything, I think this speaks to our nature to respond to a deadline, no matter whether that deadline is June 30 or December 31. – Bryan Snyder, Senior Marketing Analyst

Higher Quality + Campaign Frequency Motivates Giving

I think the reason there is a spike [in online giving] is because that is when non-profits feel it is OK to mail/email the heck out of their files. You have not because you ask not.(see: Giving Tuesday). Do some orgs get carried away? Of course. But you can’t get unless you ask…and you’d be surprised at how many non-profits are still skittish about asking for money. Now imagine if the nonprofits made a commitment to ask more frequently through the year with the same quality of campaigns and messages they send in December. My hypothesis is that this would decrease the impact of EOY giving because there would be more a focused effort of giving through the other 10-11 months. –  Brad Duff-Hudkins, Consulting Manager

December 30th and 31st Matter

In looking at monthly stat reports, I see an interesting trend: for many orgs, their online giving on December 31st (not the whole month of December) was higher than the TOTAL in the majority of all other months. When you see just how much money is donated online on the 30th and 31st you cannot deny that EOY is a special/important window of time when you have to get fundraising right. – Bryan Snyder, Senior Marketing Anaylst

It’s Not Apples to Apples

The comparison to events like the ACS Relay for Life may not be an apples to apples comparison. First, most non-profits do not have an event of that size and scale. And for those that do have events, the psychology of event fundraising and direct response is different. In the end, whatever brings in money and donors for the organization is what matters most. But we’re not convinced that the success of peer-to-peer and event fundraising in the Spring and Fall proves end of year fundraising is a myth. Can’t it be argued that the marketing and fundraising push behind an event mirrors the communications push for end of year, in terms of building momentum and creating a distinct deadline to give? – Danielle Johnson, Senior Interactive Consultant + Scott Gilman, Senior Interactive Consultant

Response Rates Are Lower, Gifts Are Bigger

It’s true that there’s a misconception of response rates around end of year giving. They tend to be much lower than what most realize or expect. Conversely, past Blackbaud reports have shown people make larger online gifts in December. So even with slightly lower conversion rates, you’re probably raising more money online. – Mike Snusz, Principle Strategy Consultant

Convenience is Attractive

Consider the point about deadlines above. Many organizations, and certainly many donors, continue to operate on an annual giving model. And, as we all know, we’re procrastinators. This is just as likely an explanation for the increase in gifts and average gifts in December, especially online, which is easier, faster and more convenient for most donors. – Scott Gilman is a Senior Interactive Consultant at Blackbaud

Everyone’s Doing It

While it’s hard to quantify, you can also look at the social influence for making charitable donations at end of year by hearing that Salvation Army bell, hearing about donations made by friends online, hearing news about making gifts before January 1, the perception of a holiday spirit… there is a lot of free advertising “to give” and orgs need to fight it out to be there when people decide to give and to whom. – Bryan Snyder, Senior Marketing Analyst

Ultimately, donors give on their own time frame, not the organization’s. So it is important for organizations to ask more frequently through the year and not put all of the eggs in one basket.

There is no magic bullet except to be asking more frequently through the year, with hopefully the same level of insight and attention that is paid to end of year. Much like Giving Tuesday, with the right mix of promotions, strategic planning, and a compelling call to action, nonprofits could see spikes in giving more than one time of year.

We believe the spike in fundraising during December is real.

The numbers, especially online, are there. Could this same type of phenomenon occur during another part of the year? Sure. Look at the success of events, galas and other campaigns. But is there a single reason why so many gifts come in during December? No.  It’s likely a confluence of rationale and reasons at play. But to argue that end of year is a myth, to us, seems off the mark, even though many end of year campaigns could use better messaging and certainly more thorough testing.

There’s a scene in Jurassic Park III where one of the characters takes two dinosaur eggs, and one of his colleagues, after discovering this, asks, “Can you imagine what the dinosaurs will do to us once they realize we have those?” And the response is, “Can you imagine what they would do to us if we didn’t?”

End of year fundraising is still a mystery, and can be improved upon…but can you imagine where nonprofits would be without it?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Gilman is a Senior Interactive Consultant at Blackbaud, where he was worked since January 2008 assisting non-profits with their online fundraising and marketing. He has worked on strategy development and online campaign management with organizations such as UNCF-United Negro College Fund, the Cleveland Clinic, the Carter Center, Duke Cancer Institute, Nature Canada and many more.

He relocated to Austin from New York, where he served as the Director of Online Communications for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. At NCLD Scott directed Web-related activities including content development, technology maintenance, online marketing, partnership-building and Web usage analysis. Prior to NCLD, Scott was Assistant Director of Internet Initiatives at the Jewish Federations of North America and Associate Producer at ABCNews.com.

Scott is originally from Louisville, Ky., and holds a B.A in Literature/Writing from Columbia University, a B.A. in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a M.A. in Media Studies from The New School.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!