Candy, ghosts…and year-end donations?

It’s that time of year! While many of us have been gathering treats for the goblins and ghouls who will appear at our doors tonight, fundraising and communications professionals at nonprofits across the country have been anxiously preparing their year-end fundraising appeals.

Why “anxiously”? Because the year-end appeal often makes the difference between a strong program next year and a struggle to achieve the mission. And because the sorry state and uncertain future of the economy is having an effect on public support for the work of nonprofits.

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Freaky: the fact that every store is about to begin blaring holiday tunes. Not freaky: deciding which organizations to support with any year-end donations you make! (Photo: Micah Sittig, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Year-end giving is a tradition that brings satisfaction to many families year after year. But sometimes the number of requests can be overwhelming. If you receive envelopes or emails day after day, you might wonder, “Is this much fundraising really necessary?” or “How could this possibly be efficient?”

It is necessary. Donations are an important way for organizations to get the money they need for all the things that contribute to valuable programs – from the vegetables at the soup kitchen to research on the root causes of problems.

But it’s true that fundraising could be a lot more efficient. And often, attentive donors can help on that front. If you’re planning to donate this year, here are some tips to help make sure your year-end contributions do the most good.

  • Have a plan. Decide in advance how much you can afford to give this year and what causes or groups you want to help.
  • Take the initiative. If you already know the groups you want to support, make your gifts without waiting to be asked. You can send along a request that the groups you support not solicit you further; that’s a good idea at any time of year. But if you do get a year-end appeal anyway you can recycle it with a clear conscience…or pass it along to a friend who might share your interest.
  • Be clear. If you get a year-end appeal from an organization that’s not in your plan, let them know and ask that they not send you fundraising appeals. When you do send a gift, suggest that the recipient limit any future appeals to you. Helping an organization avoid the costs of making a pointless request is a small but real contribution to their work.
  • Consider volunteering. Many organizations offer special, expanded services at this time of year. Joining such a project adds a new dimension to the celebrations of the season.
  • And this year, if you can, maybe stretch a little. Nonprofits in every community are helping people cope with the effects of the bad economy. If you’re doing ok, do a little bit more so they can do their jobs better.

Let us know if you have tips to add – either from the nonprofit fundraising perspective, or the individual donor point of view (maybe both!). And happy Halloween!

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Comments (4)


  1. JB writes:
    November 1, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I have been trying, with repeated communications, to have my elderly parents with dementia removed from numerous non-profit and political solicitation mailing lists, to no avail. Are there any repercussions or suggestions about how to be successful at removing yourself or loved ones from junk mail? The solicitations are actually dangerous in two distinct ways for seniors with dementia: First, they are not capable of making informed financial decisions or remembering when they recently gave to a specific cause, so solicitations can actually exploit their disabilities. Second, piles of envelopes that slide onto the floor can cause seniors with poor eyesight or balance to slip and fall, a very serious health risk. Is there a medical imperative to stop sending mail? Could someone propose such legislation/regulation and an equivalent to the Catalog Choice opt out service? Can continued mailings be deemed ‘harassment’?


  2. Putnam Barber writes:
    November 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I sympathize with JB’s issue. An elderly relative of mine had a magazine subscription that had been “renewed” many times before it would ever have expired and lasting years into the future. (The publisher was good, when we noticed what was happening, about making things right.)

    I don’t think there’s any reliable way to ensure that appeals will not be sent. Stronger standards for “do not solicit” programs might help, but 100% certainty seems beyond any hope.

    I think starting local might be the best course. Can you arrange to have the relatives mail forwarded to someone nearby who can sort out the unnecessary parts and pass the rest along regularly? Can a neighbor or family member intercept the post and separate out the troubling envelopes?

    Of course you should continue writing to the senders, asking that your relatives’ names be removed from the lists. Even if it doesn’t work as well as you’d like, every little bit helps.


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