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Holiday Time: Be Clear About What You Need

By on Friday, November 20, 2020

The holidays always bring out oddball stories at nonprofit organizations and if your nonprofit organization is a typical public-facing organization that serves people – you probably have a few.

There’s the phone call from the people who held a toy drive a month ago and want for you to distribute all the toys they collected two days before Christmas. And the people who baked mounds of delicious cookies and dropped them off the day after your huge volunteer event when there’s no where near enough people around to eat them. Or the people who left mounds of unwashed clothing in trash bags on the front steps of the shelter.

Sometimes these ill-timed acts of kindness can make one feel slightly grinchy. So how do you channel all of those desires to do “Do good” at the holidays into useful actions that help your organization?

Be clear about what you need in social media and in the media. As a matter of fact, be outright obvious. Put together social media copy and photos, as well as a news release that you issue to the media. I typically start this process with a press release.

The headline can be simple:

“5 Ways to Help People Experiencing Homelessness Before the Holidays”
“Christmas Toy Drive Underway, Nonprofit Needs Donations by December 10”
“Help Out At the Holidays: Volunteer Slots Available at XYZ Nonprofit This Year”

Provide a list of ways people can help. Crafters can knit warm scarves, hats and mittens for outreach. People can donate toys for children living in your facilities or for families who recently moved out of a shelter (even better, give them specific requests from the families). Others might make food that can be frozen and served later in the year. If you offer virtual volunteer opportunities, list them.

Help people visualize how donations make a difference. Due to health concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, if all you can ask for is financial donations, tie the dollar amount to something a donor can visualize. Ten dollars provides a hot meal for 5 people. Fifty dollars buys a comforter, sheets and pillows for a new resident in our shelter. One hundred dollars buys high-speed internet service for the organization’s office for a month. Five hundred dollars buys a digital camera so you can improve your social media and website.

Work in a a few dates to spell out time frames. Here are some examples: Toys for our Christmas delivery program should be dropped off no later than XYZ date, We only have two volunteer slots available per week to assist with our street lunches and you can sign up at this website (add URL).

When it comes to volunteering, be clear about what is realistic given COVID-19 and your facility operations. If training is required, mention it. If volunteers cannot be in your facilities right now, say you are sorry and be firm.

Work in near the bottom what you don’t need. If you don’t accept homemade baked goods due to allergies and sanitary reasons, say so, and try to list what you can accept (e.g. pre-packaged food items from a store, gift cards). If you don’t accept clothing donations, direct them to a place that can take them.

Add to the press release your name, phone number and email address. Many organizations put a “boilerplate” at the bottom of their releases that talks about their history, mission and programs, as well as their website address and social media handles.

After finishing your press release, send it out via email to your media list. This is a list of reporters you keep who might be interested in your work, as well as the area’s news desks and assignment editors. Hopefully your list is in good shape.

Now it’s time to write up your social media posts, using text nuggets from the press release. Pick out photos to go with the posts or make graphics, and schedule the posts to run on your social media feeds. You can often run similar posts multiple times, especially if you schedule them to run a couple of weeks apart.

Let me know if being proactive about your holiday giving needs helps make your December a little calmer and more focused.

Note: The author writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. The tips she offers in this piece written for the November/December 2020 issue are helpful for other nonprofits too.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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