Having worked in/with a number of membership organisations across the last few years, it never surprises me how many different approaches there are to the ‘Christmas shut down’ dilemma.
On the one-hand as a membership body it is important to be open and available for members, so having staff on-hand to respond to members during the post Christmas/pre New Year period can be important. However, some organisation’s find that actually having staff in across this period isn’t necessary as there are no/very few member queries. And the cost of opening the offices for those days is greater than the benefit delivered by having staff work.
There is also the issue that many organisations in the non-profit sector choose to shut between Christmas and New Year as an additional perk to staff and with staff benefits in the sector being fairly limited it is a nice thing to be able to do.
My own view is that it is ok to shut down over the in-between Christmas and New Year period as long as you are clear to members; which is sometimes where I think organisations can fall down.
So, if you are thinking about the period between Christmas and New Year then I have listed below a few things to consider:
1. Anticipating issues
You need to think about the types of reasons why members might contact across this period. It is likely to be the normal sorts of queries that could wait until the New Year? Or do you have a deadline during the period or in early January (eg AGM voting, exam entry, survey completion, promotional sale ending etc) that could result in lots of queries?
2. Producing a plan
Whether you are planning to shut down or stay open, you need a plan to ensure that staff are aware of what is happening.
If you do decide to stay open it is unlikely that you will need all staff to work, but you will need to decide who will work and when. Obviously how this is organised will need to be in line with your HR policies around holiday etc.
If you are planning to shut down and you haven’t done so before, you may need to ensure that your Chair/Board is ok with the decision. And you will need to produce a brief communication plan to tell the members about the shut-down.
3. Communicating to members
Ideally you should give your members a few week’s notice of being shut so they can plan around it if needbe. The message can be fairly short and factual outlining when you shut and when you will be open, but I’d always offer a link to your website to help them find immediate answers should their query be urgent.
If you are staying open you maybe choose to advertise this fact to members, so it can be sold as a benefit “We will be open during the Christmas period to assist members”.
4. ‘Out-of-office’ messages
Ideally all out-of-office messages across the organisation should be the same, including reiterating that the office is shut or that it is open and so and so is the person to contact.
It is important to remember all the other communication methods across the organisation and ideally they should reflect the same message too. These could include:
- Individual voicemails
- Company switchboard message
- Company mobile voicemail messages
- Generic email accounts (eg info@)
- Online purchases auto-emails
- Social media channels
I have personally found that providing staff with templates for messages is the quickest and easiest way to achieve consistent messages.
What do you think?
Will you be shutting or staying open? How do you handle it with members? Do leave a comment below.