Holiday Season 2020 — The Year of Donations Instead of Gifts

Non Profit, Seasonal Marketing

Wow. Just…wow. What can we say about 2020? From the pandemic to social unrest and economic upheaval to catastrophic wildfires, it’s been quite a year.

Somehow, all this crazy makes it feel like time is simultaneously standing still and flying by. (Ya know, because of all the fun we’re having, right?). It isn’t, of course. The calendar pages are flipping forward at the age-old cadence.

So despite the chaos, we’re steadily heading into Fall and Winter. This means Holiday Season. And now’s the moment to start rallying your marketing efforts around driving donations-as-gifts.

What’s the Case for Holiday Donations?

In this Year of Suck, there are so many more reasons than usual to consider backing worthwhile causes with donations. It should be easy to make an argument for folks to open their wallets and let the shekels tumble into your coffers. Let’s enable solutions to the multitude of problems plaguing us!

Remember, you’re pitching to your base: These people are already onboard with your mission and want to support you. Sometimes you just have to remind them with a thoughtful, well-articulated message. ?

Here are some humanitarian and fiscal reasons why holiday donations make beaucoup sense (any year, but def in 2020):

  1. Ease suffering. There’s lots of it. Everywhere, of all kinds.
  2. Make the world a better place. Uh, so much room for improvement….
  3. Propel an initiative forward. Creating or building something can be so inspiring!
  4. Non-profits are struggling. With so much demand already placed on charitable organizations, their purses are starting to show the linty old Life Savers at the bottom. They could use some topping off.
  5. Tax deductions. Ok, kinda boring and pretty self-serving. But hey, it’s still a reason and a means to an end.
  6. Matching gift. Cha-ching! Do. Not. Leave. Free. Money. On. The. Table!

Charitable Giving — A Gift That Keeps on Giving

So, why donations instead of regular presents specifically? Aside from being a great way of pulling 2020 out of the dustbin, donations-as-gifts rock because:

From the giver’s perspective:

  1. We already have so much stuff. Many people expressed that they currently have so many things they don’t use and/or don’t know what to do with. In this day and age of Marie Kondo-ing (or Home Edit, we love  them all) the heck out of our homes people are looking to downsize and declutter. A holiday donation shows you care while also acknowledging that the struggle is real with cramming even one more item into that bursting cupboard.
  2. It’s always the right style, size and color. Let’s get real. How many times have you had to fake smile your way through a “heartfelt” thank you to Auntie So-n-So for those heinous crocheted slipper socks (that you’ll never wear because you’re not a 6 year-old boy or 93 year-old granny and you live in sweltering Houston)? Holiday donations are always in fashion and always fit.
  3. ‘Tis the season. Call it societal pressure or cultural tradition, whatever. We’re creatures of habit and many are simply used to giving to favorite causes around the holidays as part of their gift-giving program. And who are we to knock this?

From the receiver’s perspective:

  1. Always arrives on time and can’t beat the shipping cost. Even last-minute gift-givers can get charitable donations in under the wire. Most organizations accept gifts online or over the phone (if in-person isn’t an option), so it’s quick and timely.
  2. The price is right. There’s a lot of flexibility with donations. Most times contributions can be made in any amount. So if you have lots of gifts to give, donating is a great way to make a finite holiday budget cover gifts for all your peeps.
  3. Hassle-free shopping. Who cares what the weather is doing outside! Whether you hate hitting the malls, especially given the pandemic, or you have a wonky schedule that makes it hard to shop, donating is stressless. Charitable donations are often doable online, anytime. Score!

Truly, gifts with a cause are all-around crowd pleasers! They’re uplifting!

Asking for Donations Instead of Gifts

Donations as gifts is gaining traction. But, it’s important to understand that different people have different feelings about this.

Even etiquette experts don’t agree on the appropriateness of the concept of “donations instead of gifts” or asking for donations instead of gifts. It can be tricky and you have to navigate it with sensitivity.

What was agreed upon? Two things. 1) Don’t lose sight of the holiday spirit. 2) The charitable giving should be done with the recipient in mind. Donations made on behalf of another should embody the ideals of generosity and caring. Donors should make contributions to organizations and cases that are near and dear to the honoree’s heart.

Show Me the Money, aka How to Get Followers to Donate

Let’s shift gears a bit. Now that we’ve touched on the idea of “donations instead of gifts,” how do you make it happen? How do you get your constituents to make donations in lieu of gifts for their friends and family? How do you get them to ask their potential gifters to make donations on their behalf instead of giving yet another gift card to the artisanal pickle boutique?

Not surprisingly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your donations request strategy is gonna have to take your audience(s) into consideration and speak to what tugs at their heart strings.

In fact, it’s likely that you’ll need to come at this from more than one angle. You may need to run multiple campaigns, each geared to a specific segment of followers. People respond to what resonates with them.

Donations Requests Best Practices

That said, here are some best practices to incorporate, no matter how you implement your donations drive:

  1. Don’t Forget to Ask for the Donation! Your call to action needs to be clear, concise and obvious. Don’t let there be any confusion as to what you want your prospective donor to do or how to do it. For example, instead of an ambiguous line like “We appreciate your help.” In your email newsletter, try something like a highly-visible button that says “Donate Now” (and links to the contributions form).
  2. Appeal to What Matters. Your base connects to your organization for a reason. Tap into that shared purpose. Your communications with your followers should identify how their donations deepen that bond and further the common goals.
  3. Make It Easy. Blow all roadblocks out of the way! It should be simple, straightforward and quick for a donor to make a contribution. This may mean reducing the number of clicks to get to the donation form, having fewer fields on the donation form, accepting more methods of payment, etc.
  4. Give Options. Not everyone is able to make a predefined donation. Allow donors to select from various contribution tiers or enter their own custom donation amount. Offer donations gift cards or gift bundles.
  5. Once, Twice, Three Times to a Donor. Research shows that people generally need multiple exposures to a message before they’re mobilized to action. For you, this means you need to get your request in front of a would-be donor at least a few times.
  6. Transparency is Non-Negotiable. Consumers are savvy. They’re using sites like Charity Navigator to size up non-profits before giving. Because they care. And want to know their money is actually being applied to the causes they’re trying to support. It’s in your best interest to provide that clarity from the word “Go”. Tell people how you’re using the funds and what successes you’ve had to date.
  7. Privacy & Security, Also Non-Negotiable. It is imperative that you safeguard donors’ personally identifiable info (PII). People need to feel confident in you and your systems when they entrust you with their deets and dollars.

It’s All in the Approach

So, those best practices are like a skeleton and muscles. They provide structure and strength to your holiday donations request.

But what about the flesh? You need to encase those foundational bits in an appealing wrapper. Add some finesse.

Here are a few approaches to consider. And, again, you may need to create more than one campaign, each using a different approach, to strike a chord with all tranches of your audience.

  • Direct & Blunt. Be bold and plainly ask for money. Lay out your sitch. State what your monetary goal is, a suggested donation amount and the specific thing the collection will go towards. This almost has a GoFundMe-esque feel to it. There’s no shame in this approach for legit causes and some people really appreciate the no-nonsense tactic.
  • Feely & Emotional. Others like a sense of connectedness and greater good. Life is poetry and they like it when the message makes their hearts sing and minds dance. Give them an idea of what you can accomplish together, how their donation is power. Ignite their imagination and passion. Harness their energy and dreams.
  • Subtle & Circuitous. This may be somewhere in between the other two approaches and then a little off to the side. Here you’re effectively saying “Capes4Catz iz needz $100” without literally saying “We need $100; give it to us right meow purrrr-ty please.” You’re lightly and adeptly dancing around, using metaphors and stories. This can be a good option to reach folks who balk at frank pleas for donations but aren’t into touchy-flowery appeals.
  • From the Vault. What’s worked in the past? Draw on prior wins and then take that to the next level. You know your cause and you supporters — leverage that!

In Lieu of $$$

Keep in mind that not everyone who’d like to make a monetary donation is able to. In the spirit of the holidays and charity, it’s nice if you’re set up to accept non-money contributions. This lets everyone have an opportunity to participate and create a positive impact in meaningful ways.

After all, one doesn’t need deep pockets to make a difference by:

  • Volunteering for your organization
  • Making in-kind donations of food, equipment, supplies, raffle prizes, etc.
  • Helping to fundraise
  • Making important connections
  • And so many other ways!

Wrapping It Up

2020’s shaping up to be a banner year…for all the wrong reasons. But, hey, let’s put some spin on this and look at it as an opportunity! With so much need out there, there’s more opportunity for charitable giving. And those donations will pack even greater beneficial punch.

Donations instead of gifts, while still potentially controversial, is becoming on-trend. The holiday season is a natural time to think of others and give presents. As a non-profit organization, it’s certainly well-aligned with your mission to make holiday donations requests.

Making your request needs to be done in thoughtful ways that resonate with your supporters. To accomplish this you’ll probably have to launch more than one campaign  – and start running  them in November. Adopt best practices and approaches for more success. As always, the team at Intuitive Digital is here to help you with your marketing needs. Don’t hesitate to reach out!

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

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