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Monday, July 2, 2018

Best Times to Donate to Your Favorite Charity

Can you believe it? The first half of the year has 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.

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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...


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

Logan said...

So are matching gift campaigns just a marketing ploy? The counter to recurring giving is that charities usually run big matching gift campaigns at year-end where their bigger donors put up a match offer for all other gifts during a certain time period. On paper it looks great to have one's donation amplified, however it's ultimately no different than a donation earlier in the year if that big donor was going to donate all of that money anyway.

Unknown said...

My beef is that you can notify a charity to take you off their mailing list and it doesn't happen. Therefore, a charity I once supported several years ago has been wasting money continuing to send me mail to donate which is foolish. It was a 2 star charity, and I try to limit my donations to 3 or 4 stars unless I am totally convinced I want to support them for other reasons.
I give most of my money in the first 6 months of the year. Every charity seems to think you should donate as soon as the new year begins. I donate to some each month at the same time I donated the previous year. After all, you can only donate as your money comes in.
I think charities should become more sophisticated as to how to reach people with different patterns of giving not just a blanket mailing.
All charities should also be sure to include a snail mail address for donations.

Unknown said...

My husband and I already donate monthly to our most important charities. These are mostly $10-$25 each month because we aren't wealthy. Unfortunately, this year I have seen a significant increase in requests from unknown organizations, which frustrates me. I especially dislike the ones with coins in them, which usually come from low-rated organizations. Most of the stuff goes in the recycling bin. However, I have found some smaller organizations that seem worthy; when I send them a check, I also send a letter saying I will donate once a year but please do not send requests every month. By the way, I vet every organization through Charity Navigator (which I mention in my letter); I also search online for the charity's physical address rather than the "send donation to" address.
And a thought about matching gift campaigns: Some organizations I donate to have a big matching gift campaign once a year and that's when I donate to them.

Unknown said...

I get at least 5 requests for money every day (usually more like 10). In my experience , most charities are willing to send less mail, less often, if they are notified the other option is that your name is removed from their mailing list. As to the coins, if a postage paid envelope is included, I mail the coins and my reply slip back with the request to be taken off their mailing list. If I'm going to have to pay the postage myself, I just keep all the coins in a manila envelope to be counted some day and a check sent to an organization I do like. Good luck, everybody.