Looking for a way to give back during the holidays? Angel Tree programs are a popular way to help those less fortunate. An Angel Tree looks a lot like other Christmas trees, but instead of traditional ornaments, it is decorated with nametags that bear gift requests from sponsored families. Here’s what you need to know to make your Angel Tree program a success for your church or organization.
Think Through Common Questions
Once your organization has decided to host an Angel Tree, there are a few logistics to ponder that will help your program run smoothly.
- How many gifts can your group reasonably expect to collect? Once you figure that number out, you will be able to determine how many people you should sponsor.
- How long should the tree be up?
- What happens if not all tags are picked?
- Where is the drop-off location(s)?
- What is the final deadline for gift collection to ensure on-time delivery for Christmas Day?
- How many volunteers are needed for each phase of the project?
Find Families to Sponsor
Created by The Salvation Army in 1979, Angel Tree was started to help children in need, but some organizations have expanded to help the elderly and disabled individuals as well. How to target the most worthy recipients:
- Obtain names and tags via a well-established organization, such as The Salvation Army. Contact a local office to find out more.
- Organizing your own? Local churches and nonprofit organizations are a good source to obtain information for families in need. It may be wise to screen participants before listing them to make sure your group is helping those most in need.
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After you’ve decided how many volunteers you’ll need, you’ll have to start recruiting. The more people who want to lend a hand, the easier it will be to coordinate your Angel Tree. Keep these in mind:
- Reach out directly to people you think have a certain skill that would be a good fit for different phases of the project. For example, church members who work with nonprofit organizations could help identify families to sponsor.
- Think through all your volunteer tasks, so you can clearly articulate what needs must be met and the time involved. Always plan on a few extra volunteers, in case of illness or unexpected emergencies.
- Simplify the time-consuming task of scheduling and signing up volunteers by using SignUpGenius. It’s an easy way to coordinate people, and creating a simple sign up takes minutes. The text and email reminder options help to notify volunteers of their upcoming duties.
Create Gift Policies
It’s important to establish some ground rules for gift giving. Consider the following criteria and implement what your group sees fit.
- Decide on a dollar limit. There should be a limit that each person will spend on an individual. This policy will give participants freedom to choose what gift they want to purchase while not under or over buying.
- Create a written policy that your organization will only accept new gifts that are unwrapped in original packaging. Staff will need to see the gifts first before they are wrapped for distribution. Do not accept used items in any condition. It’s important to make this policy known to all gift-givers.
- Consider a No Gift Cards policy. Some participants might not have transportation to a store. Provide the specific gifts suggested unless gift cards are specifically requested on the tag.
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Make Your Tags
Your organization will decorate its Angel Tree with gift tags. Some will have to be more specific than others depending on your sponsors. After screening your participants, you will need to ask each person to include two to three wish list items, such as clothing, toys and electronics. If clothing, make sure to ask for sizes.
- List specific requests and the overall budget. This will provide enough guidance to make it easier on gift buyers.
- Ensure donors purchase age-appropriate gifts, especially for children. Create a list with some suggestions for those who either don’t have kids or whose kids have long since grown.
- List the drop-off location on each tag and the date gifts should be returned.
- Avoid oversharing personal information. Your organization might want to include a first name on the tags to make it personal, but do not include last names. Include a number on the back of each card so you can keep track of people with the same first name.
- Tap into your creative energy and have fun making the tags with colorful accents and scrapbook paper.
Set Up Your Tree
Once you’ve established the behind-the-scenes organization, it’s time to decorate the Angel Tree and start spreading the word about your project.
- Find a high-traffic area for your tree, hang the lights, then add the gift tags. You want to put out enough tags so that everyone can pick one, but not so many that people are discouraged by the number remaining.
- Decorate the rest of the tree as usual, and don’t forget a beautiful angel or shiny star for the treetop. You could even make the tree decoration its own event.
- Make sure people have a place to officially sign up and include their contact information. Genius tip: Set up a time between church services or certain hours by the tree for people to take tags and sign up online using SignUpGenius with an iPad.
- Publicize by initiating an e-mail blast, putting a notice in the church bulletin or group newsletter, adding information to your organization’s website and handing out fliers in high-traffic areas.
- Make sure people know when and where they can select a gift tag, where they need to bring the gifts and when to drop off at the collection locations.
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Collect and Distribute Gifts
Staff collection drop-off locations with enough people to review incoming gifts and wrap them once approved. Consider the below checklist.
- Review gifts to ensure they are new and not used. For children’s gifts, age-appropriate gifts are a must. Establish clear guidelines for review process.
- Make sure to have a comfortable setting to wrap gifts. Stock with wrapping paper, bows, scissors and tape. Make it fun by hosting a wrapping party and provide pizza and snacks.
- Have containers or large boxes to store gifts once they are wrapped for distribution.
- Establish a procedure in case tags are forgotten or presents are missing. Genius tip: Use an online sign up to collect monetary donations with SignUpGenius Payments for extra presents.
- Create detailed instructions for volunteers who will drop off presents, so they know when and where to bring the gifts. Some parents will want to make sure it’s not when their kids are around.
Be Thankful, Stay Organized
Make sure to appreciate your volunteers and compliment them sincerely. Let them know this project wouldn’t be a success without them. Afterward, stay in touch with a message about how Christmas went for the families and summarizing how many people were helped. Remember to keep a list of those who volunteered, so you can reach out again next year.
An Angel Tree program can bring Christmas joy to families who otherwise wouldn’t have as much holiday cheer. Count your blessings, and make it a goal to participate this year.
Sara Kendall is a freelance writer and mom of two daughters.