It’s Time to Reshape Our Thinking on Giving

We tend to associate financial donations with the end of the year—about a third of all charitable giving is done between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. But just because it’s become the norm doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the most useful way of doing it.

That year-end surge forces most nonprofits into a rather precarious position for much of the remaining 46 weeks of the year. Their smaller, seasonal fundraising campaigns aside, those organizations rely largely on their holiday-season donations to carry them through the next 12 months—which, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to plan effectively. Any slight change in demand for their services carries the potential to unravel the entire budget.

As it turns out, donors hold more power to change this pattern than the nonprofits do. And the solution is surprisingly simple: Break up our annual contributions into smaller monthly or quarterly gifts.

Standing for stability

The recurring gift, as it’s known in fundraising circles, creates a steady stream of revenue for the nonprofit throughout the year, as opposed to the mere possibility of a single donation looming at the end of the year that has as much of a chance of coming through as not. (The average donor retention rate is around 50%, which means that for every two people who support a charity’s cause this year, only one of them is likely to make another donation next year.)

In many cases, it also enables donors to be more generous. Say you donate $50 each year to your favorite charity. But now you’re considering a $5 monthly gift, which would equate to $60 over the course of the year. While $10 more may not sound all that impressive, it’s a 20% increase in your donation.

Deepening the commitment

The potential to do even more for charity isn’t the only reason a recurring gift is the more attractive option. You’d also be more deeply invested in the day-to-day work the organization’s doing. 

Sure, part of the lure of a recurring gift is not thinking about it until it comes time to review your monthly bank statement. But another way of looking at it is, you’re engaging with that organization 12 times a year rather than just once.

Even if wouldn’t make much of a difference to you, know that a recurring gift, regardless of its size, meaningfully impacts the trajectory of the beneficiary. Monthly donations not only provide greater stability, they also allow nonprofits to spend less time and resources on fundraising—which means more of both is now available to devote toward its mission.