The Nonprofit Holiday: Messaging During a Generous Season

By on Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nonprofits at this time of year are often busy places – special events are sapping our time, end of the year fundraising is in full swing, and potential volunteers hoping to do some good are calling on the phone. On top of that, the needs of the cause require attention and haven’t evaporated just because everyone else is holiday season obsessed. As a communicator  – how do you make it all work?

Think of your audiences. What does your organization need to communicate at this time of year to donors, long-term volunteers, the media and the public? Gratitude is a key element, and so are needs. You want to be intentional in what you share and how you say it.

Be clear in your messaging. Talk about what your charity needs and how people can help – not just at this time of year, but all year round. If your organization requires some or all volunteers to go through training, suggest signing up for training as a New Year’s resolution. I know more than one charity that has been surprised by a troop, class or coffee club wanting to help at the holidays -that arrived unscheduled and wanting to help. Thankfully, all those cookies they brought with them will freeze and can be eaten sometime next year. But if you can keep a short list of a few volunteer projects near the front desk that are easy and quick, that lets these drop-in volunteers feel useful and let’s you get some mail stuffing, organizing or cleaning out of the way. If you can’t accommodate drop-in volunteers, keep a list of volunteer opportunities on a flier at the front desk explaining how your organization uses volunteers and how people can get involved.

Equate donation amounts into real services your organization provides when talking about fundraising. This was one thing I loved about working with Habitat for Humanity. They had this down pat. Little children could do chores for pocket change, and together buy a roof. A Sunday school class could buy windows for a house with money from a car wash. People understood how what they gave could impact a home and a family.  They could easily visualize it when we said $5 can buy a bucket of nails. Talk about what small amounts of money and big ones can do for people helped by your organization. Think about funding in increments of $1, $10, $25, $50, $75, $100, $500, $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000. Explain what your nonprofit can do with donations in those amounts For real.

Share the stories of charity you see in your organization with the media. Stories about do-gooders and doing good that won’t do well any other time of the year – can sometimes earn ink between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The reasons are twofold. The media are like everyone else and they take time off, so they like to get a few stories “in the can” so to speak and ready to run. They also like to feature stories that are inspiring and in step with the season. This is a great time to share a story about a year round volunteer who gives from the heart, a surprise benefactor who popped out of nowhere, or a success story that shows how grateful someone has been for your agency’s help.

Write your own holiday wish list for your nonprofit. List supplies needed for programs and explain how items donated will be used. People enjoy purchasing items that they know will be used for a good cause. Don’t just say the item is for a program. Describe what you need and how it will be used. If you need 24 packs of crayons for children attending an afterschool care program to keep them off the streets and out of drugs, say so.

Look at what other charities do during the holidays. We can all stand to learn from the success of others. Write yourself an email now, if that’s what it takes, to remind you of a holiday fundraising campaign, volunteer idea, or messaging that you want to remember for next year. And put a tickler on your calendar so you can get started early on your holiday messaging and planning for next year for your nonprofit.

Keep a sense of humor. Most nonprofits have a few stories of the wacky calls they’ve received during the holidays. Sometimes you just have to grin and giggle a little bit. Most people mean well. They just don’t work in this business every day. Be gracious and kind. It goes a long way.

This website button by the Santa Cruz Volunteer Ctr
encourages volunteers to get involved.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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