News and analysis
December 18, 2014

Social-Service Groups Try Creative Holiday-Season Fundraising Tactics

Kimberlyn Moffet/St. Mary’s Dining Room

St. Mary’s Dining Room featured its cook, Maria Elena Maturana, in its Facebook posts and has been giving her spice-rub recipe to thank donors.

Some social-service groups, which generally have fewer resources to spend on fundraising than colleges, hospitals, or museums, are engaging their supporters in creative appeals this holiday season.

The YWCA in Fort Worth, for example, invited 30 multiyear donors who have given $1,000 or more to attend its annual holiday party for low-income clients, mostly single women and their children.

The five donors who attended were "elves" who gave out gifts to the children. They also talked with mothers and worked at stations where kids helped make cookies or wrapped presents. After the festivities, the donors spent about 45 minutes in an intimate chat with the Y’s chief executive, Carol Klocek.

"We are calling this ‘mission moments,’" the group’s chief development officer, Trish Rodriguez, said a few days before the party.

"It’s about engaging donors and making them feel like they are part of the work you are doing," she added. "None of us could do the work we do without our supporters."

Ms. Rodriguez said that even people who were unable to attend the event "responded really warmly" to the efforts to include them in a hands-on way.

In New London, Conn., Safe Futures, another charity that helps low-income women with children, gives its clients holiday cards and stamped envelopes bearing the names and addresses of donors. The clients, who are not identified by name, write notes to supporters. Case workers make copies of all of the clients’ notes for Emma Palzere-Rae, the director of development for Safe Futures. She compiles many of the quotes and sends them to all of the charity’s donors shortly after the holidays.

"I try to get quotes from different programs so the scope of our work is illustrated," she said. In last year’s message she wrote that "nearly 300 individuals from 102 families received holiday gifts this December. Thank you!"

"This is such an uncertain time and [it] feels that I have to start all over again," one woman wrote. "Your kindness helped alleviate an enormous amount of stress. I cannot thank you all enough for your time, effort, thoughtfulness and money spent on a family that you’ve never met. You are all Angels, and I thank you for sharing your Christmas with us."

Famous Spice Rub

At St. Mary’s Dining Room, in Stockton, Calif., the volunteer coordinator Kimberlyn Moffet, who also handles the organization’s social-media efforts, had the idea of featuring Maria Elena Maturana, the charity’s cook who has prepared Thanksgiving dinner for needy families for more than 30 years, in her postings on Facebook.

After learning that St. Mary’s gets plenty of donated turkeys and clothing every year but few of the spices it needs to prepare the holiday meal, Ms. Moffet suggested giving copies of the recipe for Ms. Maturana’s spice rub to donors as a thank-you. The note to donors includes the amount of ingredients needed for 100 cups of the recipe, to underscore the charity’s need for donated spices, including paprika, granulated garlic and onion, salt, and pepper.

The posts on social media and the spice-rub recipe were a big hit with donors, said Rebecca Glissman, the charity’s director of development. Some people even came to the charity so they could have their photo taken with the cook, she said, and a local radio station picked up the story.

"Maria Elena is shy and didn’t want her photo taken," said Ms. Glissman. "But people loved it. She has become famous around here."

Charities should treat each holiday encounter with donors as an opportunity to connect with them in conversation and learn about their lives," said Terry Axelrod, a fundraising consultant who works mostly with social-service groups. End each encounter, she added, "by suggesting you get together in the New Year for coffee or a tour."

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.