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

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

If the non-profits send out personalized cards than I believe they make a positive return on investment. In other words, if a nonprofit, no matter how many cards you choose to mail, insert some odd news, note, and name, than to me the card seems worth the effort. Without this customization, I’m not sure.

Mass mailing cards
When I served 17 years as president of the university, my name and surname appeared on countless organizations’ VIP lists. In slang, I was “someone”. Since I was apparently considered due, or at least my position was important, my office received dozens of cards: Christmas cards but also eventually Thanksgiving cards and sometimes Christmas cards.

What I found fascinating is that almost all of these cards are computer generated. My name is not found anywhere other than on the envelope label. No message related to my relationship with the organization can be found inside. No news connected in any way with who I am or even what the university has been towards the nonprofit sending the card. There is no actual signature of the chair of the nonprofit, often even when I personally knew the fellow nonprofit executive. nothing.

This even happened with Christmas cards. I was receiving cards from non-profit organizations during the week of my birthday, but the card contained no written message and no name. surprising. Try this with your spouse: Give her a birthday or anniversary card without a message or your name. not good.

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 of organizations with which I was personally closely related, and this is true of organizations whose leadership I still know.

The message I take away from this is that I don’t care much now and only cared “at the time” because I was in the position of influential and potentially beneficial nonprofit organizations. But even then, to repeat myself, I obviously couldn’t care less because I was given a card simply generated by a tickler.

I know that some nonprofits and their executives take pride in how long or how big their list of Christmas cards is. I’ve heard presidents announce a number as if it were a sign of great achievement. As you know, my Rolodex is bigger than yours. Or in more contemporary terms, my mailing list is bigger than yours.

But does this matter? Do you mean something? Do all of these impersonal cards actually further the mission and vision of the nonprofit? Will voters be overjoyed when they receive such a ticket? Is the practice of sending impersonal cards to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands an effective advancement tool? i don’t think so.

personalized cards
When it came time to make a decision about spending my hard-earned college money, I asked myself, “Is it worth it?” I still think about the same question every year now in a different nonprofit leadership role. Why should I spend or how much of the nonprofit’s money should I spend to send a card? It depends.

I do not recommend nonprofits send any holiday cards. Nor am I against a long list per se. What I am suggesting is that sending cards in an impersonal manner will not have as positive an impact as sending personalized cards. So, if I’m responsible for making a decision to spend a nonprofit’s money—resources that could go into operations or programs that fulfill the mission—I want to adopt a method that’s as high-impact and ultimately effective as possible. For me, these are personal cards.

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

It takes longer, but I like to write the person’s name, whether it be Fred, Fred and Mary, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith, depending on how well I know them. Follow this up with a sentence about the work of the nonprofit, for example: “It’s been a challenging but productive year,” or “Thank you for helping us make lives better,” or “As the year winds down, we’re excited to launch the new program….” Then follow this up with type From a Christmas or holiday season greeting: “Blessings to you and yours this season,” or “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,” or “Best wishes for this wonderful time of year.” Finally, I sign with my first name.

I guarantee that this method will catch the attention of the component that receives the card. Why? Because I respond to personal cards so I know others do, and because people who have received these cards have subsequently expressed their appreciation for them. And the personalized card will stand out in the pile on your dining room table or desktop, because it’s the only card with a personal, handwritten greeting.

Now you say, “I don’t have time to do this.” I tell him: “You don’t have time, don’t do this.” Or, if you’re really stressed, cut back on your list of Christmas cards. Don’t send more than you have the time and willingness to customize. No matter how much it is, the people who receive them will feel special and valued, which is what the nonprofit hopes its constituents will feel.

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

And while I’m not anti-tech, I would still argue that a handwritten note sent via spiral mail generates a greater positive response than anything sent via email and can be easily deleted. This may be an old-school attitude or assessment, but the now-popular “High Tech, High Touch” adage still applies. People have fun and remember being ‘affected’.

Custom group or email cards
After all of this, you could say, “If I narrow my list down to the few people I’ve allocated, our nonprofit will miss out on a key opportunity to share news and engage our audience.” Yes maybe.

If a nonprofit concludes that it must send out dozens, hundreds, or thousands of select holiday cards, I still highly recommend personalizing those cards in a recognizable way. Don’t pick it up from the printer and put it in the mailbox. Don’t just get an e-card and send it to a vast database. customize.

Personalization is different from personalization. Personalization means that the recipient’s name is on the card and that the nonprofit executive has signed the card with a personal message, even if it is on an electronic card. Personalization means that the nonprofit has added content that somehow identifies the card as the nonprofit’s card, not a stock purchase or even a special design that does not include any news or the name of the nonprofit.

A personalized card should include current information, an expression of thanks, and the person’s name and title, even if it’s not personally signed. Do not send cards from “The Staff” or, worse, no source at all other than the return address on the envelope, or the name of an institution such as “University” or “XYZ Ministries.” Put the name of the individual, perhaps the chairman of the board, president or vice president for advancement, on the card. Almost any name is better than no name.

Conclusion
Nonprofits spend thousands of dollars each year sending holiday cards to voters. But this practice, especially long lists, may be more of a cultural tradition than a good method for getting ahead.

The question of whether or not to send a holiday card must be answered on the basis of the perceived effectiveness of furthering the mission. Since the best progress is about relationships, it is reasonable to conclude that the best holiday cards strengthen personal bonds with the nonprofit. We build relationships by at least personalizing an email, but better yet, personalizing it.

Sign nonprofit holiday cards with news, notes, and names.

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