Time runs out for end-of-year donations to nonprofit organizations

December 31, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 2 p.m. Dec. 31, 2012

The need is up nonprofit organizations, but as donors start to make out checks for year-end donations, local organizations sometimes struggle to stand out in a field crowded with requests for giving.

In King County, end-of-year charitable giving to nonprofit organizations is on the to-do list for many donors. The average person makes 24 percent of annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, according to research from the Center on Philanthropy.

Issaquah and the Puget Sound region maintain a long-held reputation for generosity to charitable causes. The key for nonprofit organizations to successfully solicit donations, local leaders said, is to highlight successes.

“As someone who has been in fundraising my entire career, I’ve taken courses on how to stand out among the many requests for contributions, read articles about best practices and continually dialogue with my colleagues about how to help your organization stand out at year end,” Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Executive Director Jane Kuechle said. “In the end, it is your story that appeals. If donors find your story compelling enough they will give.”

Pam Mauk, executive director at Together Center, said interaction between donors and organizations must extend beyond fundraising campaigns.

(The nonprofit Together Center, a human services campus in Redmond, serves clients from Issaquah and elsewhere on the Eastside.)

“It is important for organizations to build relationships year-round. This is the wrong time of year to make oneself known among the many agencies that are seeking donor funds at this time of year,” Mauk said. “Our job is to introduce our mission and our work when our messages can be heard, and hopefully get people interested in our efforts. At year-end, when many people think to make contributions, we hope to be remembered.”

The nonprofit Issaquah History Museums relies on end-of-year donations. The organization dedicated to preserving local history operates the Gilman Town Hall Museum and the Issaquah Depot Museum. Donations fund the museums’ mission, as government funding for the organization is limited.

“Because the economic climate has made us more aware of some very basic needs in the community, many donors prioritize those needs when it comes to making year-end gifts,” Executive Director Erica Maniez said. “I worry that some donors assume that history can wait — that it will always be here to support after the economy improves. We tried to cut through that assumption in our year end appeal, asking our constituents to picture what could happen at the museums if funding continues to drop.”

Generosity inspires the donations, but so too do questions about the future of charitable tax deductions as Congress debates a solution to the “fiscal cliff” combination of tax increase and spending cuts.

“Generosity, the holiday spirit and year-end tax planning are a powerful combination in philanthropy,” said former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation. “The uncertainty around the charitable tax deduction may prove to be a catalyst that spikes year-end giving even more than usual.”

The Seattle Foundation manages more than 700 charitable giving funds for families and businesses in King County. The nonprofit organization is experiencing a steady flow of gifts the year end approaches, including many in the form of appreciated stock.

Under the existing tax law, donations of long-term capital gain assets, such as appreciated stock, generally qualify for a deduction at the fair market value, enabling donors to avoid capital gains tax on the appreciation.

Western Washington residents also tend to donate online. Seattle ranked No. 1 in software company Convio’s annual ranking of the top 10 most generous large cities in online donations during 2011, based on per capita giving.

The rankings reflected the almost $1.355 billion in total online donations generated through the Convio online services used by nonprofit organizations across the nation. Seattle held the No. 4 spot in 2010.

“Online giving is growing dramatically here and across the nation,” Rice said. “Donors favor the ease and convenience and it enables people to respond very quickly in times of crisis and national disasters.”

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