Year-End Giving – Hype or Help?

By on November 1, 2016   /   7 Comments


The emphasis on year-end giving by non-profits in the U.S. continues to grow every year. Our mailboxes, whether physical or email, seem to be a bit more crowded with requests during the holiday season. Is year-end giving simply hype? Does it take advantage of, or manipulate people? Or, is it truly helpful? We are bombarded by appeals for money (at least I am!). Should we also make appeals?

There is certainly a natural and good incentive for U.S. donors to give by midnight December 31st each year. Tax incentives are helpful. Deadlines are helpful. How do we handle that well, without manipulation or hype? First, we need to ask the Lord if this is His will for us. Don’t assume you should take advantage of this just because, “Everyone does it! I should, too!” If you sense the Lord’s “go ahead”, consider how to make this most effective. Choosing a focus or need for your ministry in your request is important. Also, it is important for you to have been in regular communication with people, so this isn’t the only time they hear from you. And remember, it needs to be part of a larger plan of communication, sharing ministry updates, prayer needs and financial needs.

One of Paul’s statements in his letter to the Philippian church (a “thank you note”, by the way!) helps reinforce the practical nature of this. In the second part of verse 4:10, he writes, “Indeed you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.”(NIV) Perhaps those who know us have concern from afar, but haven’t been given the right opportunity to engage further with our ministry. Could it be that a year-end giving invitation may be the right match for them?

Year-end gifts from our regular donors tend to be larger, one-time special gifts. Consider what “projects” or needs in your ministry are appropriate for this type of giving. We need to ask ourselves honestly, before the Lord, what significant financial need(s) would be appropriate to present to people for their prayerful consideration, especially at the end of the year.

Scott Morton, author of Funding Your Ministry, has built a year-end appeal into his overall communication plan, resulting in 25-30% of his annual support. That’s a lot!! Clearly, we need to pay attention to this opportunity. Scott says, “A year-end appeal is an indispensable part of my fund-raising strategy. Many of my giving partners do not choose to give monthly but gladly give once or twice a year. But they need to be reminded and invited. A year-end appeal gives non-donors on my mailing list a chance to give. Without an invitation, hardly any volunteer to give. The appeal letter makes it easy for them to make a stewardship decision. Even for those who do not give, my letter energizes them about my calling.”

So, how does our request stand out from the crowd? This “crowd” gets larger and more overwhelming every year. How will your voice be heard, your message received, when so many other voices are also clamoring for attention? In order to be noticed, it’s important to be personal and unique, individually addressing those you’re sending your request to. If it’s by email, customize each email individually (“Dear Bill and Mary,”). If you’re using snail mail (highly recommended!), hand address each envelope, use “friendly” return address labels if you’re not using corporate ministry envelopes, and select unique postage stamps, symbolic of the season or of your ministry. How your piece of mail stands out from the crowd helps determine whether it’ll be opened quickly and read. Think about what you would want or expect from a friend, not a business. The more we emphasize the personal aspect of our communication, the more likely our message will be received and read.

Scott Morton prepares two versions of his year-end appeal letters, one for donors, another for non-donors. He customizes the letter for donors of the past 36 months, including a line about their giving history. “Thank you for your gift of $1000 last December….” Then he asks them to “do it again” and to consider increasing their gift amount. His second version is for non-donors and is identical except it does not mention a previous gift. He includes, “Thank you for your prayer support and encouragement over the years….”  Both versions say “Dear Joe and Sally,” not “Dear Friends.” Scott hand signs every letter and tries to pray for each recipient as he signs each letter. “And I write a personal note (in my bad handwriting!) on probably 100 letters. Takes hours, but well worth it!”

And finally, carefully consider the timing of your year-end appeal. Thanksgiving is a great time to give thanks to God as well as to our ministry partners. It may also be a great time to give further opportunity for engagement to our ministry partners. The last few days of December may also be a great time for email or social media “last minute” appeals, often with great success. Consider which may be most appropriate for you.

So, what’s the conclusion? Is year-end giving a help or or is it hype? It all depends on how you do it – prayerfully, personally, and with consideration of those you’re contacting. Is it an invitation? Is it manipulative? Or, simply offering an opportunity for further team participation in ministry? Having done your homework, look for opportunities that fit…asking the Lord for His wisdom, guidance, and blessing. And, remember, it’s all part of long-term maintenance and relationship building, the bedrock of our ministry, which is only effective as we partner with others in team, linking arms together to see the Kingdom of God furthered on this earth. What a privilege!


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