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The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Best Times to Donate to Your Favorite Charity


Can you believe it? It’s already July. The first six months of the year have come and gone. We’re enjoying the summer months now, but before we know it the holidays will be upon us… again.

Did you know that nearly one-quarter of Americans report making the majority of their charitable gifts in the last quarter of the year (Q4), particularly in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? And, that number increases among high net worth families. Many organizations report receiving a spike, if not the majority of their annual revenue, during this period.

Who cares, right? Why does it matter when you make your gifts to the charities you support? Keep reading to learn what this increase in end-of-year giving means for organizations, and how you can budget to better support your favorite groups throughout the year.


If you’re like me, you look forward to receiving your tax return each spring. I know somewhere around March or April my bank account will see a little boost, and I’ll have “unexpected resources” to pay bills, or put away, or treat myself to that bag I’ve had my eye on. Each year I have an estimate of what I expect to receive but the return always varies--sometimes higher, sometimes lower. Inevitably, I have a moment (especially when my return is lower than expected) when I question why I pay more in taxes upfront and wait for the return on the backend. Wouldn’t it be nicer to have those “unexpected resources” throughout the year?

It’s not a perfect analogy, but this is how I think about end-of-year giving for nonprofits. Many organizations count on a spike in donations at the end of the calendar year to anchor their annual budget. They can use numbers and data from the previous year to predict what they can expect to receive but, like a tax refund, those are just estimates until the money is actually in their bank.

End-of-year giving has become a norm for donors and charities alike. For donors, waiting until the last few weeks of the year gives us time to settle our finances and determine what’s available for charitable giving. Plus, the holidays always help to bring out our generous spirits. For organizations, this means spending months planning and executing multi-faceted campaigns that will appeal to donors and stand out against tens of messages in their mailboxes and inboxes.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the extra envelopes in your mailbox in November and December, or the sudden increase in charity emails waiting in your inbox. As someone who receives both, I understand the frustration. But, as someone who used to write both as a nonprofit fundraiser, I understand the purpose. These messages are charities’ ways of securing that end-of-year spike, or anchor, for their budget so they can continue their work for another year. It’s a time when people are listening and opening their wallets, and organizations’ want to be heard.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that your favorite charity, the one working on the cause that’s so near and dear to your heart, didn’t have to rely on a spike in end-of-year donations to continue working on their mission? Well, guess what… there’s a way to help!

Many organizations agree that recurring giving is the best way to support their work, rather than one large, annual gift. It provides them with a steady influx of cash throughout the year so they don’t have to rely as heavily on end-of-year donations.

And, recurring giving is great for donors, too! Many donors find it’s less of a financial burden to break up their gifts throughout the year and may even allow them to be more generous. Instead of making one gift of $100 in December, making monthly gifts of $10 is less of a lift and, over the course of the year, results in a 20% increase for the charity. Plus, most organizations have special programs for recurring donors that provide them with special updates, newsletters, or reports.

So, how do you become a recurring donor? I find it’s easiest to start with my budget. I consider how much I can afford to donate for the year, divide that by 12, and plug that number into my monthly budget. (You can also consider making quarterly or semi-annual gifts, too). Once I have that number, I determine which organizations I want to support and set up recurring donations with them.

Our recent post, Donating on a Limited Budget, includes more great tips for making charitable giving part of your budget. And our Advanced Search Tool and Discover feature are great resources for finding an organization to support if you don’t already have a favorite.

Show the charities you support you’re a loyal partner in their work by becoming a recurring donor. You’ll help them better achieve their mission, and I think you’ll be surprised how much more invested you become in their cause.

Written by Ashley Post, Communications Manager at Charity Navigator.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

My husband & I are retired, in our mid 70s. We have always donated to at least 3 to 5 veterans charities each year plus 2 local animal organizations. We live on a fixed income & or medicine costs have increased dramatically. I resent that the organizations we give to sell our info to others. It is July 2nd & we have already received 5 calendars for next year & enough mailing labels to last until we die. Of we could give more, we eould. We receive at least 5 requests per week, several of them new. Frankly, we are beginning to feel harrassed. If we are already donating, we do not need more stuff to keep us donating. I already have a dresser drawer filled with bags, pens, calendar, mailing labels, dream catchers, etc. I wish they would just send a return envelop & a return invoice. Save the money for the vets, not for more "stuff" that we do not need.

Unknown said...

If my RMD is gifted earlier in the year, there is less principal to appreciate, and thus lower gifting available for the next years.

PapaStefan said...

I know that 4th quarter donations are somewhat difficult for charitable organizations to forecast. But I think many donors are more inclined to provide financial assistance later in the year due to heartfelt underpinnings surrounding the holiday season. So be it.

art wortman said...

This isn't so much a comment as a question. I wonder what percentage of a charity's income comes from monthly or quarterly
pledges, what percent from random contributions throughout the year (I'll send somebody $75 in March, $100 in August, and
$85 in October, within much rhyme or reason in the dates or amounts), and what percent from clearly year-end giving. If you
have any numbers, I'd love to know them. At this point, close to two-thirds of my giving is through monthly pledges, and I
do think charities are deeply grateful for those donors.

Art Wortman, Kansas City

Ashley Post said...

@Art,

It's hard to aggregate those numbers across the nonprofit sector because different types of charities rely more heavily on recurring gifts (like public radio or television, while others expect lots of one-off donations (like museums collecting fees from their visitors).

All the best,
Ashley Post