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Your 2020 Year-End Philanthropic Giving Message

William J. Acton William J. Acton, Senior Partner at Advancement Partners

All signs point to December 2020 being a banner year for philanthropic giving, so before we toss our 2020 calendars into the ash heap...be sure you have your school's year-end asking plan lined up.

Like everybody else, I am looking forward to tearing off the last page on my 2020 calendar and setting the whole thing on fire. But before doing that, I want to highlight a couple important trends happening now in advancement in Catholic schools across the country.

FIRST – all signs point to December 2020 being a banner year for philanthropic giving. With coronavirus exploding across the country, and so many people suffering economically as well as personally and physically, I know it’s hard for some to wrap their heads around the idea that people are in the mood to give more than they gave before. There are logical reasons underscoring why people would hold back on giving. For Catholic schools, the need for tuition assistance has dramatically increased. While this need has been on an incline for nearly every market for the past 5-10 years, the pandemic has created an incredible spike in requests for emergency financial aid. And schools have stepped up, as much as possible, to meet the need. There are many families struggling.

In addition, school operating costs have jumped. Installation of plexiglass partitions, the purchasing of adequate PPE, increased internet bandwidth are all new costs associated with delivering a new "normal" education. One school I am working with spent well over $100,000 to install a higher-quality air-cleaning ventilation system.

I have been able to see first-hand that school supporters "get this," and their philanthropic response has been inspiring. Initially, some schools held back on the "asking" – out of respect or fear of appearing tone deaf. One of the most heart-warming stories I recall came from the advancement director of an all-girls' school who made a "wellness check" phone call in late March to one of the school's larger donors. She began by asking how he was doing.

"I'm doing fine, thank goodness," he replied. "But tell me...how are you doing at school? And how can I help?" Five minutes of conversation later, he had offered to donate $26,000 from his donor advised fund.

"It's just sitting there in that account right now. I’d like to see it help," he told her.

Sensitivity to constituents in these tough times is essential. But it's important to understand that supporters that are in a position to help...want to help! They believe in and value the difference a Catholic school makes, and are genuinely concerned about your mission’s sustainability.

So, before we toss our 2020 calendars into the ash heap...be sure you have your year-end "asking" plan lined up. Let your donors know that giving now is more important to your school's future than perhaps ever in your history. This next year – 2021 – will remain extremely challenging, different from the "old normal" in countless ways. All of us need support and generosity.

Many schools are using the philanthropic tax advantages offered in the CARES Act as a way to bring urgency to the need for a year-end gift. Great idea! If you're looking for language to use in a solicitation or on your website, feel free to use any of the following copy in your message:

DRAFT: Sample copy for CAREs/Year-end Giving

Your support of {SCHOOL} now is more important than ever! If you find yourself in a position to help – we need, welcome and greatly appreciate it. Consider the following ways that help you AND {SCHOOL} as we get through this COVID time together:

Take advantage of the CARES Act for Some Personal Tax Relief

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes important sections that will benefit individual tax payers AND not for profits like {SCHOOL}:

  • All of us who file have the opportunity this year for an above-the-line charitable deduction for cash gifts of up to $300 per individual ($600 per couple). That means, your AGI will be reduced by the amount you donate to {SCHOOL} (up to the $300/$600 total) on your 2020 taxes. This is true even for those who claim the standard deduction. Cash gifts include check, debit card or credit card. It excludes other kinds of giving (stock, household items, property, etc.)
  • For those in a position to make an impactful gift and want to seriously reduce taxes, you can increase your gift to {SCHOOL} up to a maximum of 100% of your 2020 AGI.

Make a Gift from your IRA

Making a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from your IRA could be a big win-win as well for eligible individuals. Although no charitable deduction is available, you avoid the tax that is owed on withdrawals.

  • Individuals must be at least age 70½ on the date of the gift.
  • QCDs can come only from IRAs, not 401(k)s or other retirement accounts.
  • A maximum of $100,000 may be given annually.
  • The transfer must come directly from the IRA custodian.
  • Distributions can be used to satisfy a person’s pledge.

So if you are of an age where you receive a distribution from your IRA, consider making a gift to in this way to have the greatest possible impact.

SECOND – Another reason schools have taken a step back on fundraising these past several months is that another challenge – enrollment – has jumped to the top in terms of institutional priority. Across the country, Catholic school enrollment has been in decline for some time, and certainly the pandemic is not helping matters. Families are now justifiably asking about the “value” of a five-figure tuition bill when it includes a virtual or blended experience…when athletics and activities are not up and running…when the concept of “community” is harder to grasp.

I see and embrace the value, and I am sure you do, too! Just looking at the local public schools struggle to figure out a pathway, well, I am impressed with the incredible way Catholic schools deliver value to their students and their families. Pandemic or not…virtual, blended or in-person…no school delivers the total student experience the way a Catholic school does.

But patting ourselves on the back and saying, “Well done!” won’t stabilize enrollment. New mindsets and strategies are required. To that end, we are hosting a virtual workshop on enrollment for Catholic school leadership.

Save the date: January 28, 2021 (delivered via Zoom). More details will come your way, or check back on our website after the New Year to register.

Topics covered:

  • National enrollment trends
  • Covid -19 influences on enrollment
  • Identifying what prospective students and parents value in a high school
  • Understanding your competition
  • Identifying your school’s competitive advantages
  • Creating effective messaging strategies
  • Staffing requirements in this competitive era
  • Website marketing tips

So let’s finish 2020 strong, and start 2021 even stronger. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Posted on: December 11, 2020


William J. Acton

William J. Acton

Senior Partner


A graduate of Loyola Academy (Wilmette, IL) and the College of Holy Cross (Worcester, MA), Bill has over 30 years of hands-on experience in organizational advancement, strategic planning, board training and capital campaign management. Prior to beginning his consulting career in 1993, he worked in development for Loyola Academy (running its alumni and annual giving programs) and then for Cardinal Bernardin at the Archdiocese of Chicago, as the first Director of Development for archdiocese’s four-school seminary system and then as the first Director of the Cardinal's Annual Appeal.

Over the past 22 years, Bill has specialized in capital campaign management, major gift solicitation, strategic planning and development operation re-engineering. Partnering with school leaders, he has personally engaged in over 4,500 major gift solicitation calls ranging from $5,000 to $10,000,000.

Bill lives in Elmhurst, IL with his wife Sheila. They are members of Old St. Patrick’s Church (Chicago, IL) and the proud parents of two adult daughters, Mary Alice – a development director at a Chicago Catholic grade school – and Margy, a Chicago-based sports physical therapist.

bill@advancementpartners.com