How Late is Too Late for a Holiday Message? Part 1

Holiday stamps
Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

It’s happened again at my house: the lovely photo cards have arrived in plenty of time to get them out but the busyness of school programs, shopping and family activities have distracted me. My friends and family will tell you that our family card is rarely (OK, maybe never) received before December 25. One year it was mailed around January 4 – ugh! But I always mail them anyway because I’m so proud of my adorable children and know that their aunts and uncles want to see their photos.

So how late is too late for a holiday message from your nonprofit to your donors? NEVER!

A Thanksgiving message would have been great but it’s too late for that in 2015. So instead try a New Year’s card to thank donors for the great 2015 they made possible in the lives of your constituents. If you think mailboxes are too crowded at the end of the year, send a “welcome to 2016” message that arrives around January 4, the first Monday of the new year. A few years ago, one dear friend was running so late with her family Christmas cards that she dressed her kids up in beads and made it a “Happy Gasparilla” card. It’s a Tampa thing and I loved it! It stayed on my refrigerator most of the year. What’s going on in your organization that you can celebrate?

Some of you may be asking, ‘should we even send one?’ I say YES and here’s why: development is about building relationships and sending cards on special occasions is a natural relationship action. What about the idea of offending some of your audience? Don’t! You know your audience; pick a theme and message that reflects your organization and it won’t be offensive. Faith-based organizations have the leg up on this issue. They can celebrate their sacred holidays, but what about the rest of us? Pictures are the best way to communicate what we do so pick one great “money” shot that illustrates what you do and use an online ordering site like Shutterfly or Vista Print. If the card focuses on the good work you are doing, it won’t be offensive.

If I’ve convinced you this is a good idea, your next questions should be ‘who should get them and who should sign them?’ Send them to your board members, top donors, volunteers, vendors who give you generous discounts, and your organization’s friends. They should be hand signed by whoever knows the person best. What do I mean by hand signed? Signed by a human hand with a real pen. If you are sending too many to hand sign, you are sending too many. While you’ve got your pen out, they should be hand addressed. If you are sending too many to hand address, you are sending too many.

Does all of this sound too complicated? Don’t have the time to create a custom card? Then run to a drug store at lunch today, buy a box thank you notes and send them to the 20 most important donors to your organization. Write a note that says something like, “when you made a gift to us earlier this year, you didn’t know who your gift would help. Today I was reminded that it helped someone like…”

Your organization’s supporters are like family: they want to see those pictures and hear those stories. Use the holidays to do that.

Inspiration from Under the French Fries

French fries with salt
Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Inspiration comes when you least expect it. While having dinner with my children at McDonalds, I was challenged by the verbiage on the tray liner. You know the tray liner – that piece of paper lining the tray that usually contains a special offer for an amusement park or a promotion of the latest McFood. But this time it was a statement about McDonalds’ corporate beliefs, starting with “We believe that when you say something people should be able to believe it.” They concluded with this statement: “To be the best company we can, we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here.

So here’s the challenge to us in the nonprofit community: do we offer our employees the best opportunities around? Do we invest in their training and development? Do we let them try new things? Do we listen to their ideas?

Many – maybe even most – of our employees took their current positions because they believe in the mission of our organizations. Sure, they need the paycheck but there are plenty of places to get those. Do we capitalize on their commitment to our organization?

Although we often blame ‘tight budgets’ for our lack of employee development, some opportunities are free. Even the opportunities that require some budget are worth it. By investing in an employee’s next step – through training and opportunities – we develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders.

Training and education
The nonprofit sector has a language all our own and some basic training will benefit employees at every level. Watch for web-based trainings, share interesting articles or invest in training from a professional association like AFP.

Opportunity
Find where their interests lie and let them work on a project, try out a skill or pitch in when things are exceptionally busy. Look for areas where your organization is lacking talent, social media for instance. Challenge an employee to become a specialist in that area by researching best practices in other organizations.

Feedback
One of the most valuable things you can provide aspiring leaders in your organization is honest feedback on their performance. Find places they can improve and be proactive in providing the opportunities needed to make those improvements. Don’t wait for annual reviews, provide ongoing feedback so your team can be constantly improving.

I have no idea what kind of workplace McDonalds truly is. But I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years. Can the employees in the nonprofit sector agree with the statement on my McDonalds tray liner: “we have to create the best opportunities. And we’d like to believe that some of the best ones around, are right here“?