Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Christmas carolers wandering snow-dusted streets, children excitedly lining up to sit on Santa’s lap, and the gentle ringing of a Salvation Army Red Kettle. For most of us these are quintessential holiday memories, filled with magic and warm emotions. These emotions and the overarching feeling of kind-heartedness make this season the perfect time of year for expanding the reach of giving, goodwill, and love.
In the nonprofit sector, however, you count on the empathy and generosity of others 365 days a year, not just during the holiday season. So the question is, how can you harness the impulse to give during this time of year, to inspire action and giving year-round? One way is to provide a meaningful experience for your constituents.
The experiences you create around your cause are how you tell your organization’s story. They connect people to your mission and act as the narrative around the role your donors play in serving it. An impactful experience allows you to share your organization’s vision through meaningful interactions that bond you and your constituent base. These interactions thrive during events when you have the opportunity to interact with your constituents in person.
Holiday events and programs that provide a personal touch-point with your donors, infused with the generosity of the season, can be especially powerful. These festive occasions are prime opportunities for your organization to cultivate relationships with your constituents that will last well into the New Year. Here are three of our favorite examples of nonprofits with impactful holiday programs that create unforgettable experiences for their constituents:Salvation Army: Red Kettle
The iconic Red Kettle is as regular a presence during the holidays as garland and wreaths. Since its beginning in San Francisco in 1891, the Red Kettle has enabled the Salvation Army to provide holiday service to millions each year (over 3.5 million people were served during the 2013 holiday season).
With the longevity of the Red Kettle campaign, it would be easy for the Salvation Army to ignore innovation and coast through the holiday giving season, but surprisingly that has not been their approach. An example of their evolution is their “Red Kettle Reason” campaign, in which the Salvation Army asks donors to share the “why” behind their support with their networks of family and friends. The reasons donors share range from “Because every child deserves to have a special Christmas” to “Because the Salvation Army helped my disabled grandmother.” By showcasing personal ways that donating has made a difference for both the donors and those they serve, the Salvation Army enacts its motto of “Doing the most good”. This action of connecting donors to the impact they are making together illuminates a powerful story - one that will transcend seasons.New Yorkers for Children: Wrap to Rap
During this pun-inspired event, New Yorkers for Children (NYFC) teams up with teens in foster care to wrap presents for younger children who also receive foster care services. In 2014, over 100 teens attended the 12th annual Wrap to Rap and wrapped 1,000 gifts, all while jamming out to popular tunes being spun by a DJ.
At Wrap to Rap, charitable acts are not one-dimensional. NYFC provides holiday gifts for children who might otherwise not get them - a clear illustration of their mission to serve New York children in foster care. Further, by including older foster children in the wrapping process, the nonprofit passes on the important message of charity and providing service to another generation. It is a simple gesture with magnitude.
Wrap to Rap is impactful for many reasons. For one, the simplicity of the event makes it easy for the public to understand its connection not only to the organization’s cause, but also the part they play in impacting the mission. It also serves as a subtle, yet complex service to the children by helping both those receiving gifts and those wrapping them. The lesson to take away from NYFC is that fundraising events don’t have to be elaborate; they just have to do what they are meant to - allow people to help.Fed-Ex: Trees for Troops
The Christmas tree is an integral part of many holiday memories: putting up the tree, trimming the tree, waiting for Santa to place presents under the tree, and finally, opening presents around the tree. In many ways, it’s the axis of Christmas. But imagine you couldn’t get a Christmas tree for the holidays. What would your story be then?
FedEx, the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation, and American tree farmers come together through Trees for Troops to send thousands of real Christmas trees (an average of 17,000 trees annually) to service members stationed overseas and on military bases in the U.S. With this nonprofit program, troops and their families can enjoy a “normal” part of Christmas despite being away from their homes, families and friends.
With this initiative, FedEx is able to use its strength as a world-class delivery system, and the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation furthers its mission to “recognize and support the true spirit of Christmas for U.S. troops and military families.” The holiday tradition of going to a tree lot or tree farm and painstakingly choosing your family’s Christmas tree gets an extra touch of warm fuzzy feeling with Trees for Troops Weekend, when families can visit a participating farm or retail lot and buy a tree to be donated and delivered to a military family. Programs like these that allow participants to feel closely tied to those they are supporting help create strong connections between the constituents and those receiving aid. It is this close-knit relationship that ignites the warm feeling that only altruism can create - a feeling that inspires people to keep giving.
There’s nothing better than a story with a happy ending, and during the holidays the opportunities for heart-warming stories are abundant. Consider your organization’s mission and how you can bring it to life in an impactful, holiday-related experience for your constituents. A meaningful interaction during the holidays can lead to a new loyal constituent year-round.
Whether your organization already has a holiday event or is looking to create one, make sure to download our Seven Success Factors e-book, which highlights the seven components critical to peer-to-peer fundraising programs.