What Happens In December Should Not Stay In December

The “holiday hangover” has officially hit.

After weeks of overindulging and under-preparing, the toxic combination has now settled harder than your grandmother’s fruitcake. Some of us take this sideline moment to rest, reflect and restore. Yet many have no choice but to continue chugging on and play through the pain, since this season makes or breaks the business year.

No I am not talking about mall Santas — though true, I suppose.  I am talking about nonprofit organizations.

For nonprofits throughout the world, December (and especially the final days of December) reflect the single-biggest revenue windfall of the year. 

To most, that statement may not seem newsworthy, rather more commonsense. We are fully aware of the bell ringers as we hurry past them to get and do what we came to get and do.  Perhaps we’ve even noticed that our mailboxes and inboxes are fuller than usual with appeals from our favorite causes.



The volume is hard to ignore, but is it just more noise? Simple answer: no.

According to multiyear online giving studies done by researchers at the Network for Good and other groups, this is how the increased noise shakes out for nonprofits:

  • 3 out of 4 of people will give to at least one charity in December
  • 1 out of 4 people will give to more than one charity in December
  • People give an average of $100 more in December than other month
  • People give an average of $100 more online than they do in person or by mail
  • 33% of online giving happens in December
  • 22% of online giving happens on Dec. 30 and 31

For my fellow data visualization aficionados, here is a pretty infographic I helped put together that reflects these realities for Kansas City-based nonprofits:


These facts defy common sense, even for a nonprofit lifer such as myself. Can you imagine waiting until December to get 33% of your salary or waiting until Dec. 30 and 31 to get 22% of your salary? I can’t. This is why we have increased nonprofit noise during our holiday hangover. It makes cents — a lot of cents.

But what does it all mean? Better yet, what should it mean? 

On the surface, it means that December is very important to nonprofits, and people with big hearts who are glued to their smartphones and computers are also very important to nonprofits. But tighten your thinking cap a bit and dig below the surface. This also means that year-end is not the beginning of the end for episodic engagement; it is actually the end of the beginning for establishing lifetime value.

As Gary Vaynerchuk so bluntly puts it, “Stop acting like a 19-year-old dude trying to ‘close’ on the first date.” While he is describing the social media tactics of companies, the same could apply to the marketing tactics of many nonprofit organizations in December. While it could be tempting to go right to the “close” move and wait another 12 months to call again, I would not recommend it if you plan to be in business in five years.

And you’d better be — the world is depending on you.

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