How Do Non Profits Capture Holiday Spirit of Giving for Year-Round Help?

Homeless, wrapped in an old quilt and huddled on the church steps, a man turned his head away as he was offered a bag of food. "Oh, no! Not more food," he said.

It was Thanksgiving evening. The well-stripped carcass of a turkey lay nearby. Passers-by with leftovers and holiday dinners for the homeless had fed the man and his companions well.

non profit, non profit leader, holiday giving, volunteers, homeless, holiday spiritNot so on other nights when a sandwich or a bagel -- never mind the cream cheese -- is a welcome sight.

For the next month, an abundance of food, toys, and volunteers will be offered to non profit agencies, some of whom will have more than they need, thank you very much, as Ariel Kaminer wrote in The New York Times on November 20.

Try as she might, Kaminer couldn't find any place that wasn't full up with volunteers to serve food.

The U.S. Marines run their Toys for Tots Program annually in the months leading up to Christmas and there are donate-a-coat programs here and there, as well as the Salvation Army bell-ringers.

The New York Times runs its neediest cases program during the holiday season, which helps a lot of people and provides new names for the mailing lists of participating agencies, but what happens to those neediest cases when January 1 rolls around?

Seasonal spirit is great, a much-needed infusion of funds for many organizations. Big donations during the holidays plump up the budget. But perishables, like food and volunteer hours, can't be set aside for later, when they are needed.

Non profits and the people they serve are not a holiday happening. Children need clothes and school supplies all year long, and homeless people need food and shelter in every season.

So how can non profit leaders harness the good will and warm-hearted generosity of the holiday season for use throughout the year?

As Kaminer so rightly said in her article, better than serving turkey one night a year would be to donate time to help people fill out food-stamp applications.

And not just for one or two nights of the year.

Agencies who experience an upsurge in volunteers and offers of food at the holidays might use one of those volunteers to take names and ask for a rain check on the good will. Use the spirit of the season to get a commitment for time later in the year.

Would that work?

One church used to hold a "Christmas in July" event to refill its food pantry and restock supplies of clothing for those in need. It was easier for parishioners to donate in July when holiday spending wasn't straining the budget, and donating then still gave them a nice, warm glow.

How do we get those volunteers who were turned away from serving Thanksgiving dinner to come back and help fill out food-stamp applications? 

Do you have an answer? Has your organization come up with a way to tap holiday generosity year-round?

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