New Year’s Hangover … From All Those Solicitations?

Were any of us immune to the incredible onslaught of solicitationsreminding us that we have only 2 days, or 2 hours, remaining to make that gift before the year ends?

hangoverBy Richard Marker

Happy New Year. Some frolicked with throngs until the wee hours; others had a quiet evening. And most did something somewhere in between. The New Year has begun.

If you are like most of us, the new year greets us with melancholy and ambivalences: wishes and optimism for new opportunities and reminders of missed opportunities and personal losses in the one just concluded. Under the pressure of those ambivalences, we make all sorts of well-intentioned resolutions. And for many of us, most of them are “decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” [t. s. eliot]

The political and nonprofit fundraising industry counts on that to raise lots of end of year funds. Were any of us immune to the incredible onslaught of solicitations – reminding us that we have only 2 days, or 2 hours, remaining to make that gift before the year ends?

You cannot blame them. All of these nonprofits and political candidates count on voluntary discretionary support, and why not do everything possible to get you to make a gift? I am not a fund-raiser and don’t know much about fundraising, but I have to assume that these last minute solicitations must actually work or they wouldn’t do it.

I am, though, an educator of and advisor to those who give. And for most of us, last minute reactive giving leads to very non-strategic and too often mindless philanthropy.

That doesn’t mean that the 11th hour contribution is necessarily money wasted. There are many legitimate and worthy causes and candidates and it isn’t always irresponsible to give to the ones who make the strongest case or play on your emotions at those pre-midnight moments when one wants to close our metaphoric and financial books on the year.

But it certainly doesn’t represent the best of strategic and intentional philanthropy for most of us. Why?

  • The reminders that most organizations give about in-time tax deductions is accurate but not particularly relevant for most. Most US citizens don’t itemize their charitable deductions, or if they do, don’t give so much that it makes much of a difference in taxable income. Those who do itemize and give at sufficient levels that it does make a difference have probably already planned their giving well before December 31.
  • Only a small percentage of earners don’t know how much they will have earned for the year until December. Most of us make roughly the same amount of money each month throughout the year. Therefore giving throughout the year allows for our philanthropy to be part of more careful financial planning for us, and, no less important, is more beneficial to recipient organizations so they don’t rely on a frantic end of year campaign. Perhaps if more people gave this way, fewer organizations would indulge in end-of-year frenzy.
  • Giving under psychological or social pressure means that you may be less informed in your choices. There are so many sources of accurate and useful information available to everyone these days so a giving strategy should not be a discipline only of the wealthy. All of us make decisions every single day: what do we say no to, even if only by ignoring requests that come by phone or in the mail. And most of us do give something – whether in a pew collection plate, or to a sidewalk Santa, or through a payroll deduction, or by a neighbor’s girl scout cookie request, or at the supermarket register asking us to round-up for the hungry. How much money one has needn’t matter, but if we are going to give something, shouldn’t that giving reflect personal or family values? There are many very valid and legitimate giving approaches one can make. Once we have thought about it and discussed it with other family members, it is much easier to decide ahead of time what we are going to say yes and no to.

There should always be space for compassion in our giving. No one can anticipate every flood, tornado, or human-caused tragedy; a giving strategy should certainly leave room for the unanticipated. It is fully human and humane to be spontaneous when faced with suffering and need. But we do our philanthropy better, and are less befuddled by all of those solicitations, when we do our planning in January, on our own time, and not in the last week of December, on someone else’s schedule.

Happy New Year.

Richard Marker teaches and advises funders from around the world through both the NYU Academy for Grantmaking and Funder Education and the Wise Philanthropy Institute, both of which he founded. His blog can be found at Wise Philanthropy.