Are You Motivated by Seeking Pleasure or Avoiding Pain?

Here’s a puzzler for you… Is year-end giving traditionally good because donors are in the giving mood… or is it because charitable organizations have made a tradition of aggressively asking during that period? In other words, has Q4 giving become a self-fulfilling prophecy? 

When I was Chief Development Officer at the American Cancer Society, our worst calendar quarter overall was Q4.  Our best was Q2 because that is when our largest special event (Relay For Life) was held each year. 

This has me thinking a lot about timing of fundraising promotions – mail drops, events, and campaigns.  

Tradition drives too much in fundraising management. 

We have the fall gala the third Saturday in October not because the giving environment is best then but because that is when we always have it.  We plan our mail drops on a predetermined schedule never based on forecasted charitable economic conditions… and, we are afraid to change the dates because it might screw up our comparisons to previous years. 

I love the story of the husband who asks his wife why she always cuts the Thanksgiving ham in half before baking.  Her response is that that is the way her Mother did it.  When she calls Mom to ask, Mom says that’s how her Mom did it.  When inquiry leads to Grandma she replies “Oh honey, I cut the ham in half because my oven was so small I couldn’t fit a whole one!”  Our promotion scheduling is like that. 

Now that we have new technology (Atlas of Giving) that provides a reliable forecast for the giving environment, we have an obligation to start to use the information to schedule promotions for periods when they have the best chance of return… Don’t you think? 

The Fidelity Gift Fund had its best first quarter in history in Q1 of 2011… How do you explain that?  I’m pretty sure that I know the answer.   The environment for giving was strong in Q1 and people with assets were feeling the euphoria of market gains, corporate earnings, and what seemed to be signs of an improving economy.  I won’t be surprised if Fidelity reports a really good Q2 result because the environment for giving was better than Q1. 

Based on what we see now, it makes sense to time promotions sooner rather than later in 2011 to take advantage of a better charitable giving environment.  A September mail drop or event should perform better than one in December – all other variables being equal.  Based on the current forecast, September results should be 3-5% better than December results. 

Will you be the practitioner that seeks the pleasure of better returns or avoids pain by sticking with the established schedule? 

Keep your finger on the pulse of American Philanthropy

www.atlasofgiving.com