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January 2, 2019

Call Your Middle Donors Before Year-End

As we have been writing about in this blog, it’s really unclear what the effect of the new tax law will be on philanthropic giving.

But as this article from the Wall Street Journal says, the best guess is that it won’t significantly suppress gifts from smaller donors or really large donors. (Although many community foundations reported “bundling” of gifts in 2017 to donor advised funds and private foundations that might mean fewer gifts are made by these same donors in 2018.)

However, the doubling of the standard deduction may really make some middle donors pause. These are donors that are often giving at the top of their capacity and fall squarely in the category where the deduction may or may not be appropriate for them now. What does this mean for them? If they can’t itemize due to the increase in the deduction, does it make sense for them to give?

This implies that giving at this middle donor level (whatever that level is for your organization) depends a lot on being able to deduct the gift. I’m sure that is a factor for some of your middle donors.

But on the other hand, some – perhaps many – of these donors have been with your organization for some time. They may have increased their gift over the years and are invested in the work you do, regardless of tax law.

In any case, it makes sense to touch base with them and listen carefully.

We recommend that you try to get a hold of as many donors as possible during December to remind them of the great work you do and your plans for 2019. Here’s our classic Dialing for Dollars blog that even gives you some sample language!

Over these last ten days, we recommend that you pay extra special attention to your middle donor group. Today is December 20th and we know you’re short on time, so determine which of your middle donors gave last year, but haven’t yet this year and sort by the highest lifetime value. (That is, by the donors in this giving category that have given the most over the longest period of time.)

Figure out what form of communication seems to work best for them and check in. Here are some points to make if you do get in touch with them:

  • Thank them with specifics: Middle donors often like to feel like they are on the inside. Give them some stats, a story, and some real-life examples of how their gifts made an impact this year.
  • Ask for feedback and advice: You really want to hear from this critical segment of donors. Ask if they have received your year-end appeal. What are their thoughts?
  • See if they need any additional information: Ask if they need anything in order to make a year-end gift, including any information on the work that you do, making a gift of stock, or the benefits of being a middle donor at your organization.

These three lines of questioning could really open up a conversation and you might even learn more about their worries about the tax law. (Your standard line if they ask you for advice about giving and tax law is to direct them to their financial advisor – you are not an expert!)

You might get a lot of voice mails and that’s fine, too. Leave a message of thanks and availability if they need any information from your organization.

Set any donor you can’t reach aside and go on to the next one. It will be critical for you to go back to major and middle donors that didn’t give at year-end in January. You’ll want to hear their thinking.

We really don’t know how this year-end will turn out until the bell rings, the ball drops, or the horns blow at midnight on December 31st. But in any event your middle donors are a critical audience that is full of opportunity and often overlooked. Why not give them some last-minute love as they navigate their giving this year end?

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