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Making the Holiday Spirit Last

by Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc.

Every year, as I read and watch countless media reports about holiday projects for the needy, I grow increasingly frustrated. No, I'm not Scrooge and don't want to say “humbug” to the many heartfelt gifts of toys, coats, turkeys, and other nice things. But this sort of charity ultimately is simply a seasonal nod to year-long problems. I wrote about this in a 1997 Hot Topic that is still pertinent today:

Volunteer program managers can do a number of things to take genuine holiday spirit and direct it towards meaningful help throughout the year. Here are a few ideas that come to mind.

  • Ask volunteers (and paid staff) to make a “Holiday Pledge” on a special card you provide, in which they promise to do some act of kindness on a specific date during the coming year. For example: “I will buy ice cream for my youth group on July 23.” “I will make two visits to my homebound friend instead of one during the week of April 3.” “I will arrange for at least 5 people (family, friends) to help with the Labor Day picnic.” Of course, you'll need to record and track these pledges, reminding people as they come due, and thanking them after. But maybe you can get a group of volunteers to adopt this Holiday Pledge project as their contribution to the idea!

  • The Holiday Pledge concept can also be extended to outside groups who contact you with offers to come caroling or run a toy drive for your clients. If they don't want to wait to do the activity later in the year, perhaps they would be willing to collect and wrap items in December that will be valued in the summertime (tee shirts, sun glasses, sun screen) and be distributed then. In fact, they can even wrap the items in Christmas (or other holiday) paper. It will be fun to see these colors in the summer.

  • If you traditionally hold a holiday staff party, enjoy yourself! But perhaps you can add something to the event. Make one of the activities at the party a “Resolutions Rally.” Put up twelve sheets of newsprint, one labeled for each month, with a supply of markers. Point out that everyone has a back burner to-do list of things that need to be done but just never rise to the top of the list (reorganize the files, update the directory, read a stack of professional journals, etc.). So you're giving them the opportunity to actually make time for a necessary task. By publicly writing the commitment down, and scheduling a specific time to tackle it, they are likely to get it done – and, again, a team of Resolution Ralliers can remind and reward them. So all year long the organization benefits from the New Year's Resolutions everyone made. By the way, if you don't want to mix pleasure and business at a party, then schedule this activity for another time in December or early January.

  • Finally, pick a day – like the 25th – and each month hold a “Christmas in X (March)” activity all through the year (or do a “New Month's Day” on the 1 st of every month). This can be something simple like a cookies and punch social for clients or a small collection of items needed at that time of year. Or, you can recruit community groups to adopt a month and do something for you of their choice, but always on the selected date.

I'll bet you can think of other ideas to spread the holiday spirit across time. Seasons greetings to all!


About the Author: Susan J. Ellis is President of Energize, Inc., a training, consulting, and publishing firm that specializes in volunteerism. She founded the Philadelphia-based company in 1977 and since that time has assisted clients throughout North America (48 states and 5 provinces), Europe (8 countries), Asia (3 countries), Latin America and Australia to create or strengthen their volunteer corps. The year 2002 marked Energize's 25th anniversary.

Susan is the author or co-author of eleven books, including From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Program Success and The Volunteer Recruitment Book - several of which have been translated into Japanese, Taiwanese, French and Italian. All her books can be found in the online bookstore. From 1981 to 1987 she was Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Volunteer Administration. She has written more than 90 articles on volunteer management for dozens of publications and writes the national bi-monthly column, "On Volunteers," for The NonProfit Times.

Please visit Energize web site, a cornucopia of over 1000 pages of information especially for leaders of volunteers. Call for a FREE catalog of Energize materials: (800)395-9800 [in Philadelphia (215) 438-8342], or fax (215) 428-0434. Or write to Energize at: 5450 Wissahickon Ave, Box C-13, Philadelphia, PA 19144.

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