Non-Profit Organization: Challenge of Client Service at Christmas

Providing client service during the Christmas season can be challenging for non-profit organizations. Plan ahead to ensure success for everyone involved.

Management of non-profit organizations that serve clients in the community are well aware of the stresses and strains of the Christmas season. Although other holidays are celebrated, both secular and religious, it is usually the lead-up to Christmas that is the most labor intensive.

In order to make sure that the season ends successfully, management will want to identify potential issues, plan resources and events, and plan for client support.

Identify Potential Issues for Client Service Delivery

Throughout November and December, there is often an increasing sense of urgency for the agencies to provide enough services so no client feels left out of Christmas festivities.

  • Client issues. For clients, there might be a sense of inadequacy and frustration that they cannot provide what their families expect. Singles might experience feelings of isolation and loneliness to the point of depression and increased use of alcohol and drugs. The non-profit needs to think through their client profile and determine the realities of the situation of the people they serve.
  • Resources. Most organizations experience a strain on their usual resources during this period. They need funding, staff, and volunteers for extra activities and gifts. Although the typical increase in donations is welcome, there is a need for human resources to collect, organize and disburse them according to certain policies and procedures.

It is important that these potential issues and situations are identified before management begins their Christmas planning.

Plan the Services Provided for the Christmas Season

Planning for the Christmas season needs to be done well ahead of time. September is not too early to start. In a typical client service organization, the following items deserve consideration.

  • Decide on activities and services to be provided. This might include distribution of Christmas food hampers and toys, preparing gift bags for residents of an emergency shelter, offering a free Christmas dinner to singles and families in the community, scheduling community carol sings or chapel services, fundraising events, or even planning for extended hours at local drop-in centers.
  • Balance the schedule. There is no need to cram every possible activity into the Christmas season. In some communities, agencies serving people living in poverty coordinate their schedules so community dinners are served any time from the beginning of November until the end of February. This is much more sensitive to the needs of clients than having six dinners over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Decide on extra client support services. Many vulnerable clients need that extra support during the holiday season. If the organization serves clients who are in particularly discouraging situations, it might be useful to partner with another community resource for extra help. For example, arrange for mental health workers to be on call just before and after Christmas.
  • Identify human resources needed. Even accepting additional donations of money or gifts requires additional staff or volunteers. Be realistic in deciding how many more people are needed based on previous years and on any new activities this year. Explore the possibility of involving student, church or service groups from the larger community. It might be useful to explore service partnerships with other agencies, especially if the need has increased significantly.
  • Determine any extra space. Perhaps, the agency needs to rent space for preparing and distributing hampers and toys. Maybe there is a need for a dining hall with kitchen for a community meal. This is definitely not something to leave until the last minute, especially if there is the possibility of free space.
  • Identify supplies needed. Someone needs to be in charge of determining what extra supplies are needed for each activity and consolidating that list as far as possible for savings in purchasing. For example, a food item might be need for both the hamper program and the community dinner; make this one purchase.

It is important to involve people in the planning who actually supervise and do the work to make sure all the details will be covered. Develop and distribute a workplan to everyone so there are no misunderstnadings.

Plan How the Services Will Be Delivered

For some organizations, the Christmas season brings the dilemma of being politically correct in the words its uses and the activities it offers. Is it “Christmas” or “holiday”? Do we sing traditional carols that speak about the birth of Jesus, or just secular songs? Do we announce special chapel services, even though they are optional and client services are not dependent on attendance?

Non-profit management might want to discuss the following considerations.

  • Be true to the organization’s mission and philosophy of service delivery. If it is a Christian-based non-profit, be clear that it is Christmas that is being celebrated. No one expects less, and might even be disappointed if management tries to “sterilize” the season.
  • Emphasize inclusivity. Be sure that all clients are invited to, and feel comfortable at all seasonal activities. Staff might need a reminder if there is a seasonal expansion of the client base.
  • Be sensitive to the religious and cultural needs of the clients. Check a multi-faith calendar of special days in all faiths. Although few if any agencies can cater to all the holiday and holy day expectations of their clients, they can demonstrate a sensitivity by providing information about events and organizations that would welcome them for their specific celebrations, or ask them to share their experiences with staff and other clients. There could even be special meals prepared that would be learning experiences for everyone.

These same principles apply to any faith-based or secular agency celebrating a holiday at this time of year.

Good planning, a sensitivity to client needs and enlisting extra support will ensure a successful Christmas service season.

Merry Christmas To You All! Hope This Christmas And New Year Brings A Lot of Good Memories To You 🙂