End of Year Philanthropy in a Year Unlike Any Other

The end of the calendar year is a busy time for arts & cultural organizations – performing arts venues are typically producing, marketing, and selling tickets to popular shows like Holiday Pops and the Nutcracker, and museums are welcoming visitors looking for fun activities during their winter vacations. The high level of end-of-year activity also extends to the Development/Advancement departments, where holiday good cheer (and the desire to utilize end-of-year tax credits) drives up philanthropic giving. Most fundraising professionals would agree that December is truly the most wonderful time of the year!

As the end of 2021 approaches, Development departments are aiming to finish the year out strong. Last year was an anomaly in so many ways – while in-person attendance at arts & cultural venues suffered due to closings and social distancing restrictions, financial contributions to nonprofits actually increased in 2020. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, charitable donations increased by more than 10% in 2020 over 2019. The need to meaningfully connect with others, reductions in personal spending on entertainment and travel, and the desire to ensure beloved community organizations survived the shut-downs were major factors that drove giving in 2020.

Now that arts & cultural organizations are reopening and adjusting to new ways of business, they are seeking ways to keep the philanthropic momentum of 2020 going. Last month, the Adage team attended a panel discussion about year-end philanthropy hosted by Cuseum, to get a feel for what arts & cultural organizations have planned this holiday season. The program highlighted nonprofit organizations of various sizes, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, and Oakland Zoo in California.

Holiday season brings in end-of-year giving

Here are a few highlights of what was presented by the panel:

  • Because the end of the year is a popular time for donors to contribute, be aware that your patrons are likely to be flooded with multiple solicitations from every organization they’ve ever supported. One of the organizations represented on the panel admitted to sending thirteen different e-mail solicitations to every previous donor at various points in November and December! With that many messages going out, list segmentation and inter-departmental coordination is critical to ensure you’re not flooding (and irritating) your patron base. Be specific in your subject lines so your loyal customers don’t miss important alerts – such as notices of membership expiring or a change in facility hours – in case they automatically delete anything that looks like another solicitation.
  • The end of the year usually means the coinciding of many fundraising efforts at once: annual giving, membership renewals, gift memberships, special campaigns, and more.
  • Some organizations use the name recognition of #givingtuesday, an annual day of philanthropy created by 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation in 2012, in order to motivate donors to the point of action. This can be a useful tool in converting “I’ll donate at some point” to “I’ll donate now,” however panelists advised organizations to not confuse their patrons with too many seemingly competing campaign messages. If you’re heavily promoting #givingtuesday, an additional mailing encouraging donors to give separately to a special fund or promotion might fail to connect.
  • Earned media is a great way to draw attention to your organization’s mission, story and needs. Animal rescue–related stories from the Oakland Zoo were recently picked up by local news outlets and the Development department tied in these popular stories with their year-end campaign.
  • With rising costs of paper, envelopes and postage, organizations have been looking at better ways to reach donors electronically. Are you keeping track of how people want to be contacted? Some of your donors may continue to respond to mailed solicitations only, but this a great time to examine your contribution sources to determine if your mailed efforts are effective.

All in all, it seems like arts & cultural organizations are closing out 2021 with optimism for a bright future. What we learned in 2020 was that there were many ways to reach people beyond seeing them in-person, which is especially key at year-end. Staying connected to our patrons ensures that their sense of personal engagement—as well as their financial support—will continue long into the future.

Adage is always here to talk through your digital giving strategies and capabilities. Reach out today!

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