What Time Do The Football Games Start On Thanksgiving The Perennial Nonprofit Question: To Send A Holiday Card Or Not To Send A Holiday Card

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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, convey best wishes and generally keep in touch.

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

If nonprofits send personalized cards, I think they generate a positive return on investment. In other words, if nonprofits, regardless of how many cards they choose to mail, include some individualized message, a note, a name, it seems to me that the card is worthwhile. Without this personalization I’m not so sure.

Bulk cards
When I served as university president for 17 years, my name and title appeared on the VIP lists of countless organizations. In the vernacular, I was “someone”. Since I was apparently considered worthy, or at least my position was considered important, my office received a ton of cards: Christmas, but eventually Thanksgiving, and sometimes birthday cards.

What I found fascinating was that virtually all of these cards were computer generated. My name was nowhere but on the envelope label. No message related to my relationship with the organization could be found inside. No news in any way related to who I am or even what the university is versus the nonprofit that sent the card. There is no actual signature of a nonprofit president, even many times when I personally knew a fellow nonprofit director. Nothing.

It even happened with birthday cards. I would receive cards from non-profits during the week of my birthday, but the card contained no written message or name. Incredibly. Try this with your spouse: Give them 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 those non-profit organizations. This is true for organizations with which I have personally had close relationships and it is true for organizations where I still know the leadership.

The message I take from this is that I don’t matter much now and I only mattered “back then” because I was in a position that non-profits saw as influential and perhaps beneficial to them. But even then, to repeat myself, I obviously wasn’t that important because I got a card simply generated with a tickler file.

I know some nonprofits and their leaders pride themselves on how long or big their Christmas card list is. I’ve heard presidents proclaim the number as if it were a sign of great achievement. You know, my Rolodex is bigger than your Rolodex. Or, in more modern terms, my mailing list is bigger than your mailing list.

But does this matter? Does that mean anything? Do all these faceless cards actually reinforce the mission and vision of the nonprofit? Are voters overwhelmed with joy when they receive such a card? Is the practice of sending dozens or hundreds or even thousands of non-personalized cards an effective promotion tool? 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 in a different role as a nonprofit leader. Why should I spend or how much should I spend of the nonprofit’s funds to send the card? It depends.

I don’t recommend that nonprofits not send holiday cards. Nor am I against 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 deciding how to spend a nonprofit’s funds—resources that could go to operations or programs that fulfill the mission—then I want to adopt the method that has the greatest impact and ultimately the most efficiency. For me, it’s personalized cards.

Every Thanksgiving I spend several 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 against the typical black font of the card’s printed message.

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

I guarantee that this method will attract the attention of those receiving the card. Why? Because I respond to personalized cards so I know others do, and because the people who received these cards later expressed gratitude for them. And a personalized card will stand out from the crowd on the dining room table or office desk, as it is the only one with a handwritten personal greeting.

Now you say, “I don’t have time for this.” To which I say, “You don’t have time not to do this.” Or if you’re really pressed, pare down your Christmas card list. Don’t send anything more than you have the time and will to personalize. As much as this is, the people who receive them will feel special and appreciated, which is, after all, what the nonprofit hopes its constituents feel.

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

And while I’m not against technology, 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 saying “High Tech, High Touch” is still applicable. People enjoy and remember being “touched”.

Custom bulk cards or emailed cards
After all this, you might say, “If I reduce my list to a handful that I personalize, our nonprofit will miss a key opportunity to share the news and engage our constituents.” OK, maybe.

If a nonprofit finds that it needs to send results or hundreds or thousands of curated holiday cards, I would still highly recommend customizing these cards in some distinctive way. Don’t just pick them up at the printer and drop them in the mailbox. Don’t just get an e-card and forward it to a huge database. Adjust.

Customization is different from personalization. Personalization means that the recipient’s name is on the card and that the executive director of the nonprofit 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 current information, an expression of gratitude, and the person’s name and title, even if they are not personally signed. Don’t send cards from “Person” or, worse, no source of origin other than the return address on the envelope, or the name of the institution such as “University” or “KSIZ Ministries”. Put the name of the individual, perhaps the board chair, president or vice president of advancement, on the card. Almost any name is better than no name.

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

The question of whether to send a holiday card or not to send a holiday card should be answered based on perceived effectiveness in improving the mission. Since the best advances are in relationships, it seems logical to conclude that the best holiday cards strengthen personal connections with a nonprofit organization. We build relationships by at least customizing our mailings, but even better, by personalizing them.

Sign holiday cards for nonprofits with news, notes and names.

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