The end of the year is a busy one at area nonprofit organizations.
According to Network for Good’s 2015 report on online giving, 30 percent of online donations are made to nonprofits in December. Graphs of December giving show a sharp increase in donations beginning the day after Christmas and continuing until Dec. 31. On that day, 20 percent of online donations received that month are made.
Those statistics are reflected locally in online, mail and in-person giving.
“The majority of the annual campaign donations we receive during that time come in from Thanksgiving through the end of the year,” said Scott Shewell, president and CEO of Safe Harbour.
The agency’s annual campaign begins immediately after Thanksgiving and continues through mid-January. It’s scheduled at that time, in part, because people are thinking about making year-end donations for tax purposes.
“People are making those decisions about donations, not only because of the holiday season and generosity, but also because of tax implications,” Shewell said.
“It’s definitely the busiest time of the year,” said Molly Helmstetter, director of development at New Hope Ministries. “We see a huge increase in foot traffic, mail and online giving.”
The agency receives about 25 percent of its yearly donations in December and about one-third of its yearly donations between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.
Helmstetter attributes the rise in giving during that time to both the spirit of Thanksgiving and to tax deductions. From notes that are included with mailed donations, New Hope has learned that people are reflecting on how they have been blessed and are thinking about how they can give back.
“From experience with nonprofits over the years, I will tell you that year-end giving is critical to all nonprofits, particularly those that are not on a fee-for-service basis,” said Robert Weed, interim CEO of Project SHARE.
November and December are the two largest distribution months for the food pantry. It’s a time when food budgets are stretched because children are home from school, and families are coping with higher energy costs as the heating season kicks into full gear.
“This is not only a time of increased giving by people in the community, but it’s also, at least for our clients, a time when their needs really start to ramp up,” Weed said.
All three agencies also see a rise in in-kind donations during the holiday season. In recent weeks, Project SHARE accepted significant donations from food drives conducted by Wilson Middle School and South Middleton School District, with Boiling Springs High School donating 2,760 items.
“With our vision of nourishing a community and awakening hope, those contributions are what enable us to respond in a favorable way in offering assistance and offering hope,” said Deb Hess, director of development and major gifts for Project SHARE.
This is also the time of year that Safe Harbour launches its “Linens and Things” collection drive in which people can place donations of linens, sheets, towels, personal care items and nonperishable food items in laundry baskets placed in the local offices of F&M Trust.
Shewell said about 95 percent of the agency’s linen supply comes from community donations, and it is constantly in need of replenishment as clients are allowed to keep the items when they transition out of Safe Harbour’s program into permanent housing.
“In addition to the monetary need, those are the things that we have a constant need for,” Shewell said.
Shewell put numbers to the financial need, saying Safe Harbour has to raise $256,000 by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018. Of that, $20,000 comes from grants and another $46,000 comes from events such as the recent Star Wars premier, the Shoemaker Golf Classic, Night Without a Home and the Night Without a Tux gala.
The remaining $190,000 comes from community donations.
“We have a total we need to get to at the end of the fiscal year to help balance our budget, and so every dollar gets us to that number,” he said.
Nonprofits work to reach that goal through a variety of activities. The key for many is to keep their story front and center among likely donors through newsletters, social media and other communications.
Joe Kloza, director of education and community outreach at Project SHARE, said it’s important to let people know what the organization is doing and to describe the need in the community. It’s also essential to let the community know how donations are used.
That’s when an organization’s board of directors can become one of its greatest assets. Hess said Project SHARE’s board has been influential at this time of year.
“They’ve been making thank you calls to previous donors, and just touching base to let the individuals know how those past donations have impacted the struggling families of our community,” she said.
Nonprofits see an increase in the number of people coming in person to drop off donations at their facilities during the last weeks of the year, but Helmstetter said the calendar works against those making last-minute donations this year with Jan. 1 landing on a Monday.
Items that are mailed may not meet IRS requirements for a tax donation if they are not postmarked by Dec. 31, she said.
This year, New Hope will accommodate last-minute donors by opening its Dillsburg center at 99 W. Church St. from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 30. Helmstetter said visitors will be able to see the new facility and enjoy cider and cookies while making sure their donation arrives in time for a tax deduction.
“They can stop in and we can verify that it’s in on that date,” she said.
Increasingly, though, online giving provides the easiest option for people wanting to make a donation in advance of the Dec. 31 deadline.
Helmstetter said the IRS dates online donations by the time and date that the giver clicks the submit button on the online donation page.
“You literally can go right up to the end of the day, and when you hit ‘submit’ that is the date of your donation,” she said.
When making year-end donations, it’s important to research nonprofits first. Helmstetter encouraged potential donors to make sure the organization is registered with the state and to check out the agency’s ratings on a website like Guidestar or Charity Navigator. These precautions help donors make sure they are supporting an organization that is not only doing good, but also has a positive reputation and values transparency.
More importantly, though, donors should look for agencies that work in the areas they care about.
“When you’re giving, you should find an organization that is close to your heart,” Helmstetter said.