With 211 shopping days left until Christmas of course there’s plenty of time to get ready for the year-end giving bonanza. Right?
The problem is that the much-touted—almost sacred– belief that the year-end giving season is the best giving season is at, best, an incomplete belief, and perhaps a full-blown myth. Summer season may in fact be better. And here you are – fully unprepared to capture this seasonal bonanza because most of your plans are focused on year-end.
We can hear the rumblings now. Has the Agitator lost its damn mind?
After all, report after report, benchmark after benchmark shows that one-third of annual donations occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
On that point you’re correct. One-third of all annual donations do occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But where things get interesting is when the following question is raised: Is the increased amount of giving attributable to a seasonal effect or it is a function of the sheer number of appeals that flood the market between #GivingTuesday and year-end?
One experimental study has some interesting findings that do find a seasonal effect – namely a negative one for the Christmas season.
The experiment occurred at two different periods – summer and Christmas season. Participants were given money and had the opportunity to allocate any portion of the money to the German Red Cross.
This shows the first finding: In the Christmas season the subjects donate about 30% less than the summer subjects.
But that’s only part of the story. Not everybody is the same.
This next part of the experiment sorted people based on their psychological profile of tending to be Other Oriented- ProSocials or Self-oriented-Individualists. Other-oriented, ProSocials are much more likely to engage in all sorts of helping behavior, including giving.
People aren’t the same, here is a theory driven approach to segmenting them.
There’s a big difference between how these Social Value Orientation groups behave. It’s the pro-socials driving the higher giving in the summer because pro-socials are more prevalent in the study and in the population.
Why did this happen? That is the real question followed by what should charities do differently as a result? First, the why.
The Negative Power of Holiday Stress
As stress goes up, pro-social behavior goes down, a lot. And stress was a lot higher during the holidays than the summer. The researchers further found stress doesn’t really impact giving among “Individualists “. But remember, Individualists are almost always the smaller group in your fundraising – and typically smaller by a wide margin.
The researchers also found that as relative savings goes up, donations go down. Probably damn near everybody spends more during the holidays than at other, discrete points in the year. But, for those that are saving more than others during the holidays, it further depresses giving.
And here is the final, interesting finding: Christmas-time giving was not impacted by the number of reported solicitations that study participants received; it was a non-factor in the giving decision.
Squaring the Circle
So, how to square the circle of all the disproportionate share of revenue coming in between Thanksgiving and Christmas and this research?
- To get a donation does require asking. And there is a ton more asking during Christmas than summer
- Christmas may have lots of positive, seasonally specific attributes that we might assume make it the “giving season”
- But, Christmas season also has two big negative attributes – tons of stress and people financially pinched. These effectively crowd out the positives
- Prosocials are more common in society and far more susceptible to Holiday stress
- The repeated asking is not driving giving decisions even while initial asking is creating a necessary, but far from sufficient, precondition
- The sector is way over-soliciting during the Christmas season and by comparison, probably under-soliciting in the summer.