The perennial nonprofit question: To send a holiday card or not to send a holiday card

The perennial nonprofit question: To send a holiday card or not to send a holiday card

To send a holiday card or not to send a holiday card, that is the question. Every year since 1991 I have wrestled with this question, not personally but professionally. My family sends Christmas cards to family members, friends and a few acquaintances. That’s not a problem – it’s a good way to share news, send best wishes and generally keep in touch.

So what’s the problem professionally? Aren’t these same benefits available to a nonprofit when it sends Christmas cards, or more generally, any kind of holiday card to its members? It depends.

If non-profits send personalized cards, I think they generate a positive return on investment. In other words, if nonprofits, no matter how many cards they choose to send, insert some personalized news, a note, a name, I think the card is worth the effort. Without this customization, I’m not so sure.

Mass sent cards
When I served for 17 years as a university president, my name and title popped up on countless VIP lists of organizations. In the vernacular, I was ‘someone’. Since I was apparently considered worthy, or at least my position was considered important, my office received dozens of cards: Christmas, but eventually Thanksgiving cards as well, and sometimes birthday cards.

What I found fascinating was that almost all of these maps were computer generated. My name was nowhere to be found except on the envelope label. No message related to my association with the organization could be found inside. There are no news stories that relate in any way to who I am or even what the university was like to the non-profit organization sending the card. There is no actual signature of the nonprofit president, even many times when I knew the fellow nonprofit CEO personally. Nothing.

This even happened with birthday cards. I received cards from non-profit organizations the week of my birthday, but the card had no written message and no name. amazing Try this with your spouse: Give him or her a birthday or anniversary card without a message or your name. Not good.

Even more interesting to me, since I left the university presidency, I no longer receive cards from most of these nonprofits. This is true of organizations with which I have personally had a close relationship, and it is true of organizations whose leadership I still know.

The message I take from this is that I don’t matter much now, and I only mattered “back then” because I was in the position of non-profits considered influential and possibly useful to them. But even then, to repeat myself, it obviously didn’t matter that much because I got a map just generated from a ticker file.

Some nonprofits and their leaders, I know, take pride in how long or large their Christmas card list has become. I’ve heard presidents announce a number as if it were a sign of great achievement. You know, my Rolodex is bigger than your Rolodex. Or to put it more modernly, my mailing list is bigger than your mailing list.

But does that matter? does it mean anything Do all these faceless cards actually reinforce the nonprofit’s mission and vision? Are voters overwhelmed with joy when they receive such a card? Is the practice of sending impersonal cards to scores or hundreds or even thousands an effective tool for advancement? I do not think so.

Personalized cards
When it came time to decide whether to spend the university’s hard-earned funds, I asked myself, “Is it worth it?” I still consider the same question every year now in a different nonprofit leadership role. Why do I need to spend or how much do I need to spend of the nonprofit’s funds to send a card? It depends.

I am not recommending that nonprofits not send holiday cards. Nor am I opposed to a long list per se. What I am suggesting is that sending cards in an impersonal way will not have as positive an impact as sending personalized cards. So if I’m responsible for the decision to spend a nonprofit’s funds—resources that could go to operations or programs that fulfill the mission—then I want to adopt a method that is as impactful as possible and ultimately account as efficient as possible. For me, these are custom cards.

Every Thanksgiving I spend a few hours in front of football games signing Christmas cards. I choose a pen usually with blue, but really anything but black ink. This ensures that my name and message stand out from the typical black font of the printed message on the card.

It takes longer, but I like to write the person’s name, whether Fred or Fred and Mary or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, depending on how well I know them. Follow that with a sentence about the nonprofit’s work, such as, “It’s been a challenging but rewarding year,” or “Thank you for helping us touch lives,” or “As the year ends, we’re excited to launch the new program. .” Then follow that with some sort of Christmas or holiday season greeting: “Blessings to you and yours this season,” or “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” or “Best wishes at this wonderful time of year.” Finally, I sign with my first name.

I guarantee this method will catch the attention of the card recipient. Why? Because I respond to personalized cards so I know others do, and because the people who received those cards later expressed gratitude for them. And a personalized card will stand out in a pile on your dining room table or office desk because it’s the only one that carries a handwritten personal greeting.

Now you say, “I don’t have time to do this.” To which I say, “You don’t have time not to do that.” Or if you’re really pressed, shorten your Christmas card list. Don’t send more than you have time and desire to customize. However many they are, the people who receive them will feel special and valued, which is ultimately what the nonprofit hopes its constituents feel.

Electronic cards
The e-card phenomenon is still relatively new. Some nonprofits use this method to send holiday greetings to their constituents—it’s cheap and instant. But the same rule applies. Personalized e-cards bring a higher return on investment than non-personalized e-cards.

And while I’m not anti-tech, I’d still argue that a handwritten note sent in the mail elicits a greater positive response than something emailed and easily deleted. This may be an old-school attitude or assessment, but the now-popular adage “High tech, high feel” still applies. People rejoice and remember that they were “touched.”

Custom mass or email cards
After all that, you might say, “If I reduce my list to a handful that I customize, our nonprofit will miss a key opportunity to share news and engage our constituents.” Well, maybe.

If a nonprofit concludes that it needs to send scores or hundreds or select thousands of holiday cards, I still strongly recommend that those cards be personalized in some identifiable way. Don’t just take them from the printer and drop them in the mailbox. Don’t just acquire an electronic card and forward it to a vast database. Personalization.

Personalization is different from customization. Personalization means that the recipient’s name is on the card and the nonprofit leader has signed the card with a personal message, even if it’s on an e-card. Customization means that the nonprofit has added content that somehow identifies the card as a nonprofit card, not a stock purchase or even a special design that doesn’t include the nonprofit’s news or name.

A personalized card should include up-to-date information, a thank you note, and someone’s name and title, even if it is not personally signed. Don’t send cards from “The Staff” or, even worse, from any source other than the return address on the envelope or an institution name like “The University” or “XYZ Ministries.” Place a person’s name, perhaps the board chair, president or vice president of advancement, on the card. Almost any name is better than no name.

Nonprofits spend thousands of dollars each year sending holiday cards to constituents. But this practice, especially long lists, may be more of a cultural tradition than a good methodology for progress.

The question of whether to send a holiday card or not to send a holiday card should be answered based on perceived effectiveness in enhancing the mission. Since the best progress is all about relationships, it seems logical to conclude that the best holiday cards strengthen personal connections with the nonprofit. We build relationships by at least personalizing the letter, but even better by personalizing it.

Sign non-profit holiday cards with news, notes and names.

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