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Year’s Final Day Yields Gold for Non-Profits

While retailers and individuals by now have wrapped up the annual binge of gift selling and buying, leaders of some nonprofits are still anticipating crucial year-end gifts, many arriving in the year’s final hours, that keep their programs running.

Even organizations with strong year-long support admit to a bump in December donations, and many turn to their boards to make special appeals to procrastinators as well as smooth the path for would-be givers.

“Year-end donations are extremely important to us and directly impact the depth and breadth of impact we are able to have on the children and families we serve,” said Pamela Estes, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, adding that about one third of all of their annual donations were made in December last year, with several on-line donations that arrived close to midnight on Dec. 31.

Smaller and newer established charities often rely on last-minute donations to bring in as much as 80 percent of their annual funds, said Monica Prado, development director of the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, where year-end donations typically represent 20 percent or less of gifts overall.

Though the clinic relies less heavily than other groups on last-minute donations, “It’s certainly something that we rely on to make ends meet so that we can care for our friends and neighbors throughout the year,” said Dr. Thomas Bent, the clinic’s medical director.

In the final days of last year, Laguna’s CSP Youth Shelter, which serves as a short-term crisis intervention program for at-risk teens, lost critical income when a hacker disabled their website and their ability to collect on-line donations from last-minute donors. With a better protected website now in place, the shelter is hoping for a happier result this Jan. 1.

“Hopefully people sitting at their computers can give an end of year gift of any size,” said the shelter’s director, Carol Carlson, who has seen a drop off in contributions this year as their middle-income donors are no longer maintaining the same level of giving.

The CSP Youth Shelter boasts no large donor base and has limited exposure to the community as its caseload, typically accommodating about 200 children annually, draws from across the region. While the current teens in residence received donated gifts, Carlson said on-going operating expenses are not defrayed with gift-wrapped contributions. “We’d love any help anybody can give us,” she said.

Late in December, Dawn Price, executive director of the Friendship Shelter, also sees a surge in donations from individuals, who, with other private donors, account for 75 percent of the organization’s revenue.

“We do everything we can to ensure that our supporters have many ways to make their gifts during this busy time of year,” said Price, whose staff checks the post office and Internet mailboxes more frequently as the new year approaches.

Even an organization’s loyal supporters will make last-minute donations to ensure their gift counts as a tax deduction in the current year.

And many nonprofits take advantage of that momentum with direct mail year-end fundraising appeals.

The annual fundraising drive for the Boys & Girls Club typically runs from October through December, with board members sending out letters to past and potential donors. These evoke a flurry of immediate donations that taper off before reviving again in December’s final weeks, said Estes.

Borrowing money-raising strategies popularized locally by Schoolpower and Heifer International, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center sends supporters and past donors a year-end newsletter with a “fund-a-need” catalog and a menu of gift-giving options, such as underwriting a sea lion’s daily needs, said spokeswoman Melissa Sciacca.

“Year end fundraising is always a time for us to get in anyone who hasn’t yet made their annual donation, and push towards our goals,” said Sciacca.

The Laguna Beach Community Foundation typically hears from procrastinators in the year’s final weeks. “We provide service to our donors throughout the year, but if a donor needs to act quickly to make a gift by the end of the tax year we will assist them in making a timely charitable gift,” said president and chief executive Darrcy Loveland.

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