5 Mistakes that Could Cost You Year-End Donations

As year-end approaches, you are probably working feverishly to raise as much money as possible for your nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, you might be making some mistakes that could cost your charity enormous sums of potential donations.

Here are just five common ways you might unknowingly short-change your organization at this special time of year:

1.  Appeals by the Numbers.

Many of the year-end appeals that I receive focus on numbers. Often, the number is “31,” as in December 31. Other numbers tout the volume of people served or the amount of a challenge grant. As I wrote last week, numbers can tell part of an organization’s story; however, numbers can’t tell the full story.

For the most effective appeals, you will want to engage hearts and minds. While some numbers can be meaningful, telling an individual story makes your nonprofit’s work more relatable and easier to understand. Individual stories are also far more likely to engender an emotional response.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a great example of what I mean. The organization could tell us how many veterans suffer from PTSD and medical issues. The charity could simply tell us how many veterans they serve each year. Instead, the Wounded Warrior Project tells the story of a single veteran. The organization’s television appeals are mini-movies that tell us of a veteran’s war experience, the problem he or she came home with, and how the Wounded Warrior Project is improving the veteran’s life. You can watch one of the organization’s television spots by clicking here.

2.  Not Asking for Gifts of Stock and Other Planned Gifts.

If you want to maximize year-end giving, you must seek planned gifts. Planned giving allows donors to make more gifts and larger gifts than they might otherwise be able to do simply from their checkbook. This is great news for your charity. Even better news is that not all planned gifts are deferred gifts. Here are some types of planned gifts that will result in immediate cash for your organization:

Gifts of Stock. With the stock market in record territory, many Americans own appreciated securities. By contributing stock shares to your organization, a donor can make a generous gift, realize a charitable gift deduction, and avoid capital gains tax.

Gifts of Appreciated Property. As with stock, many individuals own appreciated real December 31st by TransGriot via Flickrestate, art, and collectibles that they can donate. Your organization can either use the item for mission fulfillment (i.e., a museum can accept a work of art for its collection), or the organization can sell the item and put the cash to good use. You’ll just need to be clear with your donor about which option you intend to exercise.

Gifts from Donor Advised Funds. An increasing number of Americans have established a DAF. Be sure to remind your donors that they can advise that a gift be made to your charity from their DAF account.

IRA Charitable Rollover. Since the U.S. Congress has made the IRA Charitable Rollover permanent, individuals who are age 70.5 or older can donate up to $100,000 from their IRA each year without having to recognize it as income.

Year-end is also a good time to ask for deferred planned gifts such as Gifts in a Will, Beneficiary Designations, and Trusts.

You can read more about planned giving options by clicking here.

3.  Not Making a Staff Member Available between Christmas and the New Year.

A number of years ago, my wife and I wanted to make a last minute stock gift to a charity. Unfortunately, the organization’s website did not display the necessary instructions. When we tried calling the organization, we were only able to leave a voice-mail message. No one got back to us in a timely manner. Out gift went elsewhere.

As the year draws to a close, someone must remain available to answer questions that prospective donors might have. Consider this: 12 percent of all electronic giving occurs in the last three days of the year, according to the Network for Good!

Be there when your donors need you.

4.  Not Making Your Appeals Readable.

As I was preparing this list of mistakes, my wife told me about a direct-mail appeal she received from The Natural Lands Trust. The font size was so small that my wife couldn’t read the letter without serious eye strain, even with her reading glasses. So, she didn’t. The piece promptly found itself resting in our recycling bin.

If you want people to read your material, make it readable. That means, use an appropriate size font, use a serif font in print, use a sans-serif font in electronic messaging, and never use reverse type.

For more information about the readability of appeals, click here.

5.  Over-Focusing on Year-End Giving.

Nearly one-third of all electronic giving happens in December, according to Network for Good. Many charities raise massive sums of money between #GivingTuesday and the close of the calendar year. That’s all due in part to the spirit of giving during the holiday season and the fact that most nonprofits aggressively campaign for year-end donations. However, following the herd isn’t necessarily smart.

Unfortunately, the herd mentality regarding year-end appeals, and the holidays themselves, mean your organization has stiff competition for limited dollars. Your prospective donors are being bombarded with fundraising appeals at a time when they’re also spending money on holiday gifts for loved ones, for travel, and for entertainment. Most donors contribute based on available disposable income in a given month. A prospective donor might want to support your organization, but the year-end timing simply might not be right.

However, each month, the reservoir of disposable income is replenished. At the beginning of the year, you have an opportunity to tap into that reservoir with less competition. When people give, they donate what they can afford at that moment. Making an appeal when they have greater means to give makes a great deal of sense. By the way, this is one reason why monthly-giving programs are a great idea.

So, in addition to a year-end appeal, you might want to also test a beginning-of-the-year appeal.

You can read more about this idea by clicking here.

When I told a friend the topic for this week’s blog post, she offered up what she feels is the biggest year-end fundraising mistake some charities make: “Not asking!” There are many mistakes that nonprofits make at year-end. I’ve touched on some, but there are many more. Fortunately, with some minor low or no-cost adjustments, you’ll be able to attract more supporters and raise more money than you otherwise would.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are some of the year-end mistakes you’ve encountered? Or, what are some of the year-end fundraising tactics that are working particularly well for you?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

9 Responses to “5 Mistakes that Could Cost You Year-End Donations”

  1. I agree with your friend that the number one mistake is “not asking”! It’s hard to believe, but every day small (and even some larger) organizations think it is wise to not ask- as if magically the money will appear at a later date and that donors will appreciate the nonprofit for not asking this year.


    Also, nonprofits need to pound the message to give appreciated stock. I have found time and time again that what we think is common knowledge as fundraisers (that one can both receive a tax deduction and avoid capital gains tax), is actually either not known or forgotten by donors.

    Especially this year- of all years- is it beneficial to give appreciated stock, and considering the consequences of tax reform, even more so this year because the majority of taxpayers (and dare I say donors) will not be itemizing in 2018 if tax reform is passed in its current form.

    • Jon, thank you for taking the time to make a number of good points. One of those points reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a small nonprofit organization. The Capital Campaign Chair said, “I don’t understand why we need to go out and actually ask people to give. All we should have to do is tell them in our newsletter why we have a capital campaign. It’s not for anything frivolous. We need a new roof and a new heater to keep the doors open. We should just be able to tell people that, and they should just give.” I told him that he was absolutely correct. All the organization should have to do is make the solid case for support and then watch the donations flow in. I continued, “However, since life doesn’t work that way, you actually need to ask people to give if you want them to give. Wishing for support won’t get the job done.” Fortunately, he begrudgingly followed by advice, and the organization eventually reached its campaign goal.

      The point you made about stock gifts is something I continue to find amazing. There was a time when I assumed that wealthy prospective donors who held stock knew the benefits of donating appreciated securities. They’re financially sophisticated, right? Furthermore, I figured if they themselves didn’t know, they’d have advisors who knew and would counsel them accordingly. Ha! It didn’t take long for me to realize that was a foolish assumption. It’s always a good idea to remind folks of the benefits of contributing appreciated stock. If the prospect already knows, they’ll still appreciate that you’re looking out for them. If they don’t know, they’ll be grateful to learn about another great way to give, and they might give more than they otherwise would.

  2. Michael.

    I’m glad you are back to writing your blog. Believe me, you have been missed.

    As for year end mistakes, it’s those organizations that don’t verify the simple things, like the spelling of a donor’s name (first and/or last) or address. My parents, who I’ve written about in my own blog many times in the past, have gotten dozens of mailings with those lovely but useless address labels that they can’t use because the address is incorrect or the names are misspelled. A simple call from a development or other staff member earlier in the year can make those corrections well ahead of the year end mailings, but they don’t, and they end up losing the longtime support of their donors (my parents).

    My friend, I wish you the happiest of the holidays.

    • Richard, thank you for your comment and good wishes. I find it interesting that so many charities endlessly search for the latest, greatest fundraising tactics while failing to master the fundamentals. Nonprofits would be able to raise significantly more money just by handling the simple things well. Thanks for reminding folks of that.

      I wish you and yours the best this holiday season.

  3. Great tips, Michael. If I had to pick the one thing too many nonprofits overlook at this time of year it would be #3, closely followed by #2. But they’re ALL big “no-no’s.” And, of course, not asking at all is the biggest sin. If you have donors who usually give who’ve not given within the past 12 months, do whatever you can to reach them — call, text, email, mail — remind them how much their previous support meant, and how very grateful you are!

    • Claire, thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment. I particularly liked your point regarding past donors and the need to reach-out to them using any number of methods. As fundraisers, we have many different tools at our finger tips. The good news, as I know you know, is that we don’t need to wring our hands trying to figure out which one we should use. The commercial sector uses “multi-channel marketing” to reach customers. Fundraisers should do the same. Using multiple methods to contact donors and prospects will ensure that one captures their attention, which can be particularly challenging this time of year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: