The Strategy of Christmas Giving

Social Entrepreneurship

The Christmas season is certainly a time for giving gifts to people we care about. It’s also a significant time for many charitable organizations where 51% of them receive the lion share of their total annual donations between October and December.

According to Charity Navigator, 69% of the population gives approximately 2% of their total disposable income to charities each year. So why do donations rise at Christmas time even when consumer shopping increases and they have less disposable income than they did 5 months ago? If every charity is fighting to be heard at the holidays, should they even try to get people’s attention or is it a better strategy to wait until another time in the year?

Our agency works with a lot of entrepreneurs who own for-profit businesses (and who give generously) and we also consult with non-profit organizations, so we understand both worlds quite well. Here’s my advice for Non-Profits around holiday giving strategies:

1. Strike while the iron is hot

The time of year is almost more important than the generous Christmas spirit. The majority of larger donations typically arise from wealthier citizens and corporations. About 70% of businesses have calendar fiscal year ends and they typically donate more when they know the year will end in a surplus. Christmas just happens to land near December 31st. Creating programs and opportunities for companies to donate to at this period of time is a good strategy. High-income families are also planning their tax return year ends and need to finalize donations by December 31st. The timing for tax and year-ends don’t happen at any other time so you need to engage at this time period when larger donations are more readily available.

2. Strike Early.

There’s almost a race to donors from October (Canadian Thanksgiving) to Christmas to try and secure donations. We sometimes joke that the World Vision Christmas Gift Guide is going to start coming in July. There is, however, truth in the strategy of being earlier than later. From the last survey we conducted, the average donor supported 7 different charities throughout the year but was committed to more than 10 even though they had not financially supported some of them in 3 years. This means that people think they support more charities than what they actually do. If they have a pool of funds to give, the first ones to the door will typically receive it.

3. Don’t Fight Culture.

The giving message is clear and evident at Christmas. We have been conditioned to believe that we should be giving more at this time of year although any food bank will tell you that they are just as in need throughout the year as they are at Christmas. Cultural habits are hard to break and it’s better for an active and unique player than non-existent. I don’t think it should be a trade-off decision but rather figure out how to create awareness at Christmas as well as another time in the year that aligns with your brand.

For those of us giving this year, the best advice I have is from Essentialism; less but better. Choose fewer charities but give more and make a deeper impact on the causes that move you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. See you in 2016.