Advice From 2 Nonprofits: How to Maximize 2020 Year-end Giving

Talk about a whirlwind. March 2020 saw all of us abruptly shift course and go virtual in response to a sudden global pandemic.

Donors responded to the need. The emergency-response #GivingTuesdayNow, held May 5, raised more than $503 million. Taking a wider view, charitable giving in the first half of 2020 increased by almost 7.5% over the first half of 2019, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

How this early-year surge in charitable giving will or has affected year-end giving is yet to play out. However, we’re seeing indications that it could be a merry 2020 for donors and nonprofits alike in the planned gift arena.

Overall, the numbers are in our favor. Thirty percent of all annual giving occurs in December with 10% of that total happening within the last three days of the year, according to Nonprofits Source.

Year-end planned giving also can be especially advantageous because of tax-savings benefits (which you’ll read more about in our recent blog “Focus on These Seven Things for Giving Tuesday Success”) and income-generating opportunities for donors, not to mention the peace of mind that comes from having one’s wishes and plans in place.

While most year-end giving campaigns are in place already, 2020 has felt like a year of firsts and flexibility. That’s why we’re checking in with other planned giving professionals about their year-end giving plans and perspectives—what’s different, what’s new and how they’re moving ahead.

Thanks to Cris Lutz, Senior Director of Gift Planning at The Huntington, and Debra Kathman, Director, Gift Planning, at World Wildlife Fund, for sharing their thoughts with us today.

Nathan: If you could look ahead into a crystal ball to January 1, 2021, why would donors say they made a year-end gift to your organization in 2020?

Cris: The primary reason individuals would have made a gift is that they believe in our mission of preserving, building and sharing our remarkable library, art and botanical collections for the uplift of humanity. Moreover, our donors trust the institution to be responsible stewards of their philanthropic support.

Yesterday, I had a phone call from a longtime member in her 80s who said she decided to call after reviewing one of our (Stelter) brochures and trying to determine where and how to leave her funds to charity. To her, The Huntington is a welcoming place of contemplation; she believes our mission is worthy, and she enjoys seeing how some of the gardens and collections have evolved since she first began visiting in the 1960s.

Debra: Our donors continue to be committed to our mission and our work, and want to be sure it continues even when there are urgent needs in so many communities due to the pandemic. However, the continuing impacts of climate change, protecting endangered species, and stopping wildlife trafficking are still issues that continue to need support and our donors understand that. I saw one comment from a recent survey that said, “Don’t forget about the animals!” We don’t, they know that, and they thankfully continue to support us.

Nathan: How will donor conversations be different this year as compared to last year?

Debra: There is so much instability in our country right now, and our donors have certainly expressed that in conversations. … We have seen an increased interest in estate planning, both as a result of our uncertain times and because people have more time at home to tackle things on their to-do list—like writing their will. We have seen an increased response rate to our estate planning-related mailings, more traffic on our website, and through other sources, like our partnership with FreeWill.

Cris: It’s an understatement to note that life is different now. However, in many ways, the crux of today’s donor conversations is similar: protecting loved ones, preserving assets, making tax-efficient gifts, and maximizing impact on our mission and in our community. We’re also having more meaningful conversations with donors because of the shared existential concerns and experiences related to the pandemic.

We just closed a seven-figure charitable remainder trust with a donor couple who were prompted to revise their entire estate plan in part because of the global pandemic and uncertainty in the world. The gift was funded with highly appreciated assets, and they now have peace of mind knowing their affairs in order.

Nathan: How do you work with other fundraising teams at your organization on blended appeals for year-end giving? 

Debra: We are just starting to tackle this. In the past, the annual giving, major gift and planned giving effort was pretty siloed, but there has been a concerted effort over the last couple years to work more collaboratively. We did some trainings last year that made the annual/major gift officers more comfortable in talking about planned gifts, and we have some shared metrics in our goals.

We also are working together on some year-end mailings, making donors aware that there are advantages to using stock and qualified charitable distributions from an IRA to make year-end gifts. At the same time, we remind donors that there are other creative ways to make gifts using these same assets, like using stock to fund a CGA and making World Wildlife Fund a beneficiary of their IRA. We are also actively promoting giving through a DAF if they have one.

Cris: Focusing on larger, shared goals (i.e., doing what’s best for The Huntington’s mission and our donors) often ultimately yields more impactful gifts. While our Advancement team is goal- and outcome-oriented, we don’t ascribe to a traditional “moves management” structure that might overemphasize metrics (e.g., the number of donor visits and solicitations) at the expense of developing and maintaining genuine long-term relationships with donors.

Nathan: How will you promote year-end giving? Print, social, digital? Is this mix different than in 2019?

Cris: In the current environment, we are being as judicious about expenses and thoughtful about messaging as possible. We are planning to promote year-end giving in our membership renewals; weekly emails to members, donors and supporters; messages on our website; and in our fall/winter Huntington Legacy newsletter (where we have a section on the SECURE and CARES Acts). While we typically have multichannel marketing, this mix is different from last year because we have essentially paused the printing of our bimonthly membership calendar.

Debra: We continue to use all these mediums to promote year-end giving but are certainly increasing our digital marketing this year, both as standalone pieces and as a follow-up to a print marketing piece.

What’s Your Year-End Story?

How has your nonprofit pivoted to meet donors in this new planned giving space and with your year-end giving campaigns? How does this year look different at year-end than it did in 2019? Anything you’d like to add? Share in the comments section below.

To learn more about year-end giving success, visit “How to Plan the Most Successful Year-End Campaign Ever.”

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