Many nonprofits would say that there is one fundraising season that consumes the majority of their year: YEAR END. It’s that period between September and December, when 34% of all annual charitable giving occurs. This fundraising season contains Giving Tuesday and December’s dual giving catalysts: 1) traditional generosity surrounding the holidays and 2) year-end donations for tax benefits. December alone represents about 20% of annual charitable giving.  

December’s spike in giving makes sense, but here’s something you might not expect: In 2017, even accounting for Giving Tuesday falling in November, November’s giving across all nonprofits doesn’t spike at all. That’s not to say that those who participate in Giving Tuesday don’t see a spike – many do! But across the top nonprofit sectors, giving stayed fairly level in November. 

Let’s Do the Math 

For context, assuming a 20% December distribution, you’d see an average distribution of 7.27% for the remaining months.  

 A 2017 giving report1 shows that for 109 organizations in 10 nonprofit categories, each with over $481 million in charitable giving, monthly donation distribution for all giving methods remains surprisingly even in 2017. While “seasonal” dips or spikes varied across different sectors, total December distribution was 18.56% and total monthly averages (not counting December) came to 7.44%.

Figure 1.Derived from 2017 Blackbaud Charitable Institute Giving Report

Here’s what the report shows: 

  • The range was 3%: For all segments, the average for February was the lowest (5.9%), although a few sectors reported consistent numbers that month, and the average for June was the highest (8.9%). 
  • Surprisingly, even with Giving Tuesday, November’s average remained level at 7.9%. The highest individual November giving average was 9.2%, in the Arts and Culture sector. 
  • Human Services saw a spike in August through October, coinciding with the start of a new school year, with September’s rate being double to their December rates.  

The summary? Most months for most sectors saw single digit giving distribution all year round, except for December, and few had more than one month of consistent increase or decrease in a row. 

What Does This Mean? 

Given the variety of org types represented, this level of consistency reflects on givers, not on seasonality or campaigns. We see that: 

  • Expectations don’t always play out like we’d think. For example, you might have a hunch that the lowest month of giving would be January, not February, considering not only the spike in charitable giving in December, but also consumers’ additional spending and traveling at that time. 
  • The so-called “summer slump” may be specific to certain organizations and not necessarily to givers.

While individual sectors and certainly specific nonprofits will often see more fluctuation from month to month, givers themselves are fairly consistent.  

If overall charitable giving remains relatively steady throughout the first 11 months of the year, can nonprofits do anything to increase generosity? Can they create additional spikes, such as the ones seen at year-end? And if so, how? 

Using Donation Distribution Data to Determine Your Seasonality 

We’ve learned from multiple studies that donors want to be generous, but they often need a catalyst. Giving Tuesday, December holidays, and year-end tax advantages are the catalysts responsible for the traditional year-end spike. It’s a triple whammy that affects many people worldwide. It would be hard to duplicate a spike of that magnitude! 

But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for creating smaller spikes and leveling out dips. 

Do your nonprofit’s recipients’ needs naturally align with seasonal events and activities? Or is your recipients’ need consistent year-round, with no specific peak times naturally occurring? Either way, it’s time to arm yourself with your own donation distribution data:

  • When are your peak and lowest times of giving?  
  • What’s going on in the world at large during those months?  
  • What annual events could be a natural fit to align a new seasonal “dip”  campaign with? Examples could include: 
    • Actual seasons 
    • Any specific time of year that creates a particular challenge to your recipients 
    • Holidays 
    • National events  
    • State Giving Days 

Endless campaigning for general needs usually doesn’t serve as a catalyst for spiking generosity. You’ve got to create urgency with a deadline, and craft a tie-in between your recipients’ needs (in the form of a story) and your new fundraising “season.”  

Allow yourself a three-month fundraising cycle to build up your marketing to a specific deadline, such as a matching donation offer. If you’re planning a physical event, you’ll want to allow 6-12 months to prepare.  

Use Your “Off” Season to Plan Something New 

Creating your own unique seasonality in your fundraising will make your campaigns more compelling and put you in front of your audience at a time that may trigger more generosity. Give the new season a little while to become a recognized part of your culture that donors expect to participate in year after year. 

Best of all, if it’s YOUR season, it won’t be as apt to get lost in the noise of every other nonprofit’s big fundraising season.