Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving in Q4 - fact or fiction?


Go ahead, ask anyone who gets snail mail. Or anyone in fundraising. Or anyone in estate planning, wealth management, or tax advising. They'll tell you, "The fourth quarter is the busiest time for charitable giving." Geez, if you'd asked me I would have told you this also. Just as we "know" that retailers turn profitable for the year on "Black Friday," we all know that most giving happens in the fourth quarter, during Giving Season, right? Well, wrong. Or, rather, maybe we don't know what we think we know.

I went looking for the stats. I wanted to compare Q4 giving in the US to Q4 retail spending ($474 bb, National Retail Federation) or Q3 airline profits ($1.6 b net income for the top 10 US airlines, Dallas Morning News) or the cumulative value of 2007 mortgage write-offs for major banks ($60-70 bb, Financial Times).

So I have all kinds of things to compare the Q4 giving number to, but, alas, I have no number. I've checked AFP, Foundation Center, Giving USA, CoF, and made some calls - I can't find a quarterly breakdown of giving.

I suppose I could create my own index and start computing a representative number...or I could divide the $300bb in 2006 by 4 ($75 b) (but that assumes giving is equal across all quarters) so I'd have something to compare to the numbers above.

Help me out folks - are there numbers, over time, to document whether Q4 is the busiest time for giving?


The Green Skeptic said...

Thank you for raising this question. I've been hearing it for years from Executive Directors, Presidents, CEOs, even Board members, and have never been able to prove it -- other than anecdotally.

Even when I've been able to run numbers, it usually indicated that, while volume was high, total amounts were greater in other quarters, especially when dealing with major gifts or strategic philanthropy.

The next time someone tells you "We raise 60-70% of our revenue in the last quarter of the calendar year..." ask them, Is that by volume or size of gift?

Death to the myth of 4Q!

Donna said...

Hey Lucy,
Check out Katya's piece from a week or so ago...
The paper doesn't have all the Network for Good stats, but they (and we) definitely have empirical data that shows that giving - at least online - takes on a serious hockey stick slope in December.
All best,
Donna from

Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy,

I did a little bit of digging and think you are right - the number isn't readily available.

However, here are some interesting anecdotes from last year's giving season from the Chronicle of Philanthropy: http://www.philanthropy.com/free/update/2006/12/2006122101.htm
This article from 2004 provides a potentially useful percentage - 25% to 40% of all charity gifts are given during November and December. There's no reference to how this is computed, but perhaps a phone call would help.



Jono Smith, Network for Good said...

As Donna alluded to, at Network for Good, we process 40% of our donations in December.

Some further info is here: http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com/comments/ask_for_online_donations_today_really/