Google “year-end campaign,” and you’ll find tons of hits suggesting that (for most nonprofits) 15%-30% of donations come in on the last month of the year. Some blog posts even suggest this to be true for the last week of the year! If that’s true, then that places a lot of pressure on the last seven days of the year. So, is it all hype or facts? Are year-end campaigns that crucial?
The not so direct answer to the question is, “yes, and no.” I know, I know. You were probably hoping to read a revolutionary, campaign altering answer that you can apply to your campaign strategy, but that’s not how things work. Nothing is ever that simple. Whether year-end campaigns are useful for your nonprofit or not largely depends on your audience and your nonprofit’s overall business strategy.
Why Putting Effort into a Year-End Campaign is a Good Idea
The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, tends to be a time when people are more generous. This time of the year is known as “the season of giving,” and is primarily known for shopping and consumption. At a time when the emphasis is on spending money on the newest electronics and the latest fashion, it’s not uncommon for people to want to balance the “giving” scale and donate to charities. Having new things is great, but donating to a more significant cause or people who aren’t as fortunate as us comes with many rewards.
Mesa United Way in Mesa, Arizona, receives approximately 12% of their annual donations in December. The nonprofit doesn’t have a net-new theme for their year-end campaign; they instead continue their yearly campaign theme and share specific messaging that is more relevant to the end of the year. They focus their messaging on programs and initiatives rather than on general donations. The state of Arizona offers charitable giving tax credits, so Mesa United Way also promotes its tax credit programs toward the end of the year (and then again toward tax time.) In 2018, tax credits were particularly relevant due to the debate over whether state tax credits would be deductible federally. Some of Mesa United Way’s year-end messaging also spotlights homelessness and hunger, but the majority of donations that come in are a result of tax credits.
"Our highest percentage of traditional giving comes in the three months of December to February, generally peaking in January. It ranges from over 12% in December and February and 14% in January.”
Allison Johnson, Director, Database & Finance, Mesa United Way
Allison Johnson, Director of Database & Finance at Mesa United Way, suggests trying different ways of engaging the public at the end of the year. She says, “Try anything! Targeted appeals based on giving history are probably our most successful method of inspiring repeated giving. Social media appeals seem most successful when they have a small financial goal, short duration, and specific purpose, but that is still a minor portion of donations for us. Community events seem increasingly useful in spreading the word about the work we do, and they help convert volunteers into donors. When our community members have trust in the work we do (and the more they consistently see us out there whether in person, via social media, newsletters, or blogs), they are unfailingly supportive when we express a need for support, whether financial or otherwise.”
Why You Shouldn’t Bother with a Year-End Campaign
Because the holidays are “the season of giving,” many people use up their available budget entirely on buying gifts for themselves and everyone on their list. After all, it’s hard to resist the holiday deals and special discount days. In reality, overspending and going in debt over the holidays is a common occurrence for many people. Americans racked up more than $1,000 in holiday debt at the end of 2018, and only 42 percent of shoppers said they were planning on paying off those purchases in three months or less. On top of that, 28 percent of shoppers went into the season still paying off debt from 2017′s festivities. With money being tight at the end of the year, your nonprofit’s cause may not be a priority for many people. Instead, giving might be more manageable when it’s done regularly (in small amounts) from automatic monthly deductions.
As holiday debt piles up, it becomes hard for many people to prioritize giving to nonprofits at the end of the year.
The fact is that communities need support year-round, not just at the end of the year. Although a large portion of donations may come in during the holidays, if your nonprofit places too much emphasis on the year-end campaign, you may fall short on yearly objectives. By the time you realize you’ll be missing the mark, it will be too late to do anything about it. By spreading your efforts throughout all of the months of the year, you’ll be more likely to meet yearly impact goals. The reason for this is because you’ll be tracking and measuring activities as you do them, and this monthly or quarterly visibility will help you adapt your strategy as you get closer to the end of the year.
"We don’t consider our year-end campaign as separate from our other campaign efforts. Our annual campaign runs through the end of the year.”
John Martin, Senior Vice President of Resource Development at United Way of Central Alabama
John Martin, Senior Vice President of Resource Development at United Way of Central Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, shared with us that over the past two years, roughly 15% of pledges and donations to his organization’s annual campaign were received between December and February. However, the United Way of Central Alabama doesn’t have a uniquely themed year-end campaign, and their messaging in December is the same as it is throughout the rest of the year. The closest they come to year-end messaging is expressing urgency to their best donors and stakeholders that highlights the need to reach and exceed their fundraising goal before the end of the year.
What Are You Doing this Holiday Season?
We’ve given you reasons why you should focus your energy on year-end campaigns, and also offered you reasons why you shouldn’t. We’re only a few days away from the beginning of the holiday season, and we’d love to hear from you to find out where your nonprofit stands on the matter.
Let us know by answering the questions below!