Are you going crazy at this time of year, trying to wrap up projects and cross things off your “to do” list before you take a break for winter holidays? In our frenzy to get stuff done and manage the stress of the season, something gets lost.
We know we are all supposed to be thinking about other people this season. Any variety of charity organizations won’t let us forget that, as the plea for donations skyrockets in December. We are inundated with reminders about how we should care. And yet, sometimes it can feel a little hollow. There’s so much to do. It’s all a little overwhelming.
To make things worse, this is the time of year when school administrators least want to think about marketing and promoting their programs. Besides, marketing is a business activity. There is often an anti-commercialism undercurrent to the holidays if you work in the non-profit and educational sectors. You know marketing is a year-round activity and yet, somehow it can just seem wrong at this time of year.
Here are some suggestions to manage the stress, put the positive back in the season and do a little advocacy for your program while you are at it:
Choose how you will approach the season – If you work in an non-profit charity program and December has always been a big month to receive donations, well don’t stop doing what works, for heaven’s sake. But if you notice that your staff are exhausted and people around you seem desensitized by the increased requests for money that happen during the holidays, you may be more effective if you don’t push the sales side of things, but rather take the time to re-ignite and reinvigorate your relationships – without even a hint of a sales pitch.
Celebrate – I don’t mean celebrate for the sake of it or because it’s expected. I’m talking about making time in your schedule to applaud those who have reached a milestone – graduation from a program or completion of a course or a job well done by teachers. Make it about them. 100% about them. This is giving the gift of your generosity, your full attention and your focus. They’ll remember it.
Connect – Sincerely, genuinely connect with others. Take the time to look them in the eye. Smile. Listen. Be present. Pick up the phone and call contacts, for no other reason than to say, “You crossed my mind the other day and I realized it’s been a while since we talked. I just wanted to say hello.” If you make a round of phone calls, focus on listening and sharing, rather than telling. This is the gift of listening and sharing.
Ask questions – One of my favorite questions of the holiday season is “What are you looking forward to this month?” I’m often amazed how this question takes people aback and they have to think a minute before they answer. They’re not expecting it. The conversations that question can lead to have been positively magical at times. This is the gift of focussing on others, and gently encouraging them to pause and think about what matters to them.
These are subtle, understated ways to reduce the stress of the season, while deepening our connections with others. The cool thing about deepening our connections is that it can later have a positive impact on marketing… but you won’t find these suggestions in any marketing textbook.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.