The end of the calendar year is a wonderful time for donor engagement. The tax deduction available to itemizers, while never the primary philanthropic driver, is always a good reminder that it’s time to give. December is the biggest month for annual giving and many donors are keenly attuned to their year-end giving cycles. Here are a few things we can do to promote their end-of-year generosity.
- Keep the office open between Christmas and December 31.
At Dunwoody College of Technology the development staff took turns staffing the office between Christmas and December 31. What’s more, we kept open the line of communication with board members and close friends of the college, suggesting that we were open for business and that we cared about donors’ year-end gifts. If your college or organization is closed, at minimum offer a cell phone number to those who call the development line between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
- Check the mail for postmarks.
Any gift delivered by mail with a postmark of December 31 or earlier was intended by your donor as gift to be credited to the previous calendar year—and the IRS allows it. So respect that intention by acknowledging the postmark date and crediting the gift on your database as a December 31 gift. You may need to change a sentence or two in your standard acknowledgment letter. Keep the postmarked envelope on file to document the gift date. You could even add a page to your web site containing year-end giving details. Here how UC Berkeley does it: http://haas.berkeley.edu/groups/alumni/giving/haasfund/endofyear.html
- Encourage gifts of appreciated securities.
The overall market is slightly off its mid-year peaks, but many segments of the stock market are quite healthy. Gifts of appreciated securities are the most cost-effective means to make meaningful gifts or fulfill pledges. But you have to be around the office to close these deals. Check in with your bank, broker or local branch of a mutual fund company to be sure you have phone numbers, account numbers, routing numbers and especially electronic funds transfer protocols on file before your donor calls you. If you need leadership authorization or participation to conduct these transactions, make sure you can find board members or organization officers during the busy holiday season. If this becomes a problem, amend your account authorization records so the chief development officer can make deposits without board participation.
- Email board members who have yet to give.
Get the word out to board members that you are open for gift processing while highlighting opportunities for gifts of appreciated securities. It is one of the most cost-effective ways for board members to make bigger gifts to your institution. Highlight the tax deduction available and let them know you are striving to meet mid-year revenue forecasts. The truth is, if they don’t make a gift now you may be chasing them around for the balance of the fiscal year. It never hurts to have a message go out from the board chair to all the board members of have yet to make their gifts or fulfill their pledges.
- Send a blast email containing a year-end tax advantage message.
Let them know that the dollars they give now will reduce their tax bills when they itemize. Those dollars will then be available for spring disbursements from the foundation to the college. Your donors may have a few days off and a few spare minutes to think about their charitable intentions for the year during the holidays and be moved to act. Emphasize the ease of online giving in the holiday season. (See the link in #2 above.)
- Run a report on all year-end LYBUNTS from last year and email them.
If you don’t have gifts in hand for this calendar year, email those donors to offer a gentle reminder that this is the month they gave last year. State their last gift amount to make the pitch more concrete. One of the biggest questions we hear in phonathons is, “When and how much did I give last year?” Get out in front of those good intentions by getting to LYBUNTS before they go stale. Few people are motivated to make gifts in January when all those credit card bills arrive.
- Remind staff and faculty that they can make a seasonal gift in honor of someone.
Holiday gifts can be hard for busy colleagues to keep up with. If it’s the thought that counts, a gift in honor of a friend, family member or colleague can be a meaningful way to give. Offer to send out a “Season’s Greetings from Prof. X” card, which lets the honoree know that a gift has been made in their honor. (Of course no amounts are mentioned!) And of course you must have someone in the office to send out those cards.
- Ask your president to call his or her top ten prospects over the holidays.
Your president has a list of top ten prospects right? A personal call wishing happy holidays to someone important to the college is one of the easiest, most natural, most appreciated cultivation calls a president can make. And even though this is just a cultivation call, it can inspire donors and prospects to make that gift they have been thinking about. If your president is a little light on prospects, compose that list now. No one possesses the golden opportunity to make a positive impression on friends of the college than does your president.
- Send a personal holiday card to your top 25 donors.
Nothing says thank you like “thank you.” And no time is better to say it than now, in the holiday season, when cards are the norm. So even if your college sends out boilerplate cards to friends of the college, say something personal as a steward of philanthropy at your college. After all, the season of giving is your season, right?
- Call and thank your volunteers.
Where would we be without those special volunteers that put us over the top on our fund drives? In this era of texts, emails, tweets and so many of the lesser communicative arts, phone calls are often regarded as a more personal medium. Sometimes a thank you is all about inflection—as in, conveying emotion and meaning it! So how about five calls a day, every day through the year-end? Your volunteers will know you care about them. That, as they say, is priceless.
Good luck, and good works to you all!