Last days of December critical to nonprofit fundraisers

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

With two weeks to go in their fundraising year, Metro Detroit charities are reporting an uptick in giving or at least holding steady.

Many are crossing their fingers, hoping that the year-end rush to donate will fill the coffers that fund their missions.

For most, every single day in December is crucial and every single one counts when it comes to year-end fundraising and charitable giving.

It's a time when consumers are mindful of IRS deadlines for tax write-offs and nonprofits are working feverishly to make most of the biggest giving month of the year, when charities typically receive 41 percent of their annual contributions, according to

That includes Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, which is halfway to its $5 million quarterly goal for emergency food and programs.

"The next two weeks are very critical. The last two weeks of the month we realize half our revenue for the quarter," said Anne Schenk, vice president for marketing and communications at Gleaners. "It usually ends up flowing in this time of year, but it's always nerve-racking. You are always looking at the numbers."

While mailers seeking donations remain popular for most organizations, many long-standing charities in Michigan have recast their approach to reach more donors: virtual food drives, texts that allow donors to go online to donate and other strategies are being used to give busy consumers an avenue to donate.

The Salvation Army, which has thousands of red kettles and bell ringers out across the region for its annual campaign, says this month it has refocused some giving efforts to online, asking donors to text SALMICH to 71777 and make their contribution via the Web, where most holiday shoppers and givers operate in December.

"Giving in December has really changed for the Salvation Army. We know 83 percent of individuals are purchasing online these days, which means they aren't going as often to stores, which is where our kettles are," said Maj. Mark Anderson with the Eastern Michigan division.

Of the Salvation Army's $9 million goal for Metro Detroit, Anderson said, "We are right on the mark with where we want to be. We don't take that for granted. If everyone pushes, we will get there."

According to a 2013 national charitable giving report by Blackbaud, a supplier for nonprofits, online giving was highest in December, accounting for 18.8 percent of online gifts for the year.

Some charities say another trend in giving is how active donors are becoming once they make a donation of time or money.

Many donate money but many more want to volunteer time. Automakers and corporate sponsors are sending large numbers of volunteer corps to pack food and perform other tasks to lend a hand during the holidays.

Valerie West, a United Way for Southeastern Michigan spokeswoman, said donors are more interested than ever in knowing what their dollars are doing, so the nonprofit provides videos of its work on its website.

"Donors are incredibly educated. They want to know their money is going toward a good place. We are an older legacy brand and we are doing really innovative work. You can meet the staff and see the work we do," West said.

To engage consumers, the nonprofit, which connects people with basic resources such as food and education as well as college and career training, is partnering with the Detroit Pistons this year on its end-of-year fundraising efforts through its Game Changers series.

From Dec. 17-31, everyone who donates is getting free tickets to a home Detroit Pistons game. The program will run as long as supplies last.

United Way also is launching a Tumblr (a micro-blog platform) campaign this week for its December fundraising efforts.

"Tumblr is the best way to reach the millennial audience. Social media is not a money maker but it's brand awareness. We aren't doing the hard ask. It's opening up the dialogue," West said.

The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries is focusing on a $200,000 fundraising goal to open two new warming shelters next month.

It has raised $25,000 and will get a $200,000 match once it reaches its goal.

"It's coming in better than previous year," Chad Audi, president of the charity, said. "We still have more to do. Usually we understand people will donate more toward the end of the month. They feel Christmas and it's the end-of-year tax donation."

Michigan residents are generous, according to IRS data from 2013.

"We know 87 percent of Michigan households contribute money or property or both to a charitable nonprofit organization. We are excited about 87 percent. There is more favorable view of charitable organizations," said Donna Murray-Brown, president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

Robin Ferriby, vice president of philanthropy with the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, said at his organization the last two months bring in 40 percent of annual gifts.

"Deadlines drive people to do this. It's part of life. People are looking at their budget and make year-end budget decisions," Ferriby said.

His advice is to always research a charity to confirm tax-exempt status, a determination made by the IRS. and are two websites than consumers can use for free, Ferriby said.

"If a charity tells you they are a nonprofit, they can be a nonprofit and not eligible for tax deductions. They aren't until the IRS says you are. It's important," he said.

Steve Ragan, chief development officer for Focus: HOPE, said three years ago his organization took a huge hit when state funding was eliminated for workforce development, one of his agency's key focuses.

Since that time, Focus: HOPE has become more reliant on philanthropy and private donations as needs for the community increase. December is one of the most important months for the nonprofit.

"In any given year we raise 25 percent in December, particularly in gifts from individuals. We try to make it more convenient every year for donors," he said. "If someone is looking to impact education, job training and hunger, there are few organizations that do it as well as Focus: HOPE."

Giving incentives restored

Congress restored giving incentives for 2014 tax year last week.

According to, Legislation passed to reinstate retroactively dozens of expired tax provisions, including the IRA charitable rollover and the enhanced deductions for donating land conservation easements and food inventory.

While taxpayers will be able to employ these provisions in the filing season for the 2014 tax year, the package will expire again Jan. 1,the website reported.

President Barack Obama plans to sign the measure into law in the coming days.

Go to the IRS website at: