Sitting Out Valentine's Day

"Be Mine"
"Be Mine." Unless of course, it doesn't make sense to woo you. (Photo by JD Hancock)

Ah February, when love is in the air! And in the stores, and the malls, and the ads, and the specials, and even in the pre-schooler’s backpack–which comes as a shock to many parents.

And then there’s the candy. Just in time for when New Year resolutions are foundering a bit. Doesn’t it always seem as if Valentine’s day comes along in heart-shaped pink diet-busting candy glory?

What if you’re not a fan? Perhaps you’re like the friend who said years ago, in all singleton seriocomic jest, “I plan to boycott the day, in black, with a pill-box hat, and a veil.”

The point is, what about non-joiners, single or otherwise? Not for them are the earnest appeals asking donors to make a Valentine’s day donation in their sweetie’s name. And smart nonprofits do appeal, because they realize that any major occasion with room for engagement can and should be leveraged. Which is as it should be, because let’s face it, you gotta be shameless like that when every fundraising dollar matters.

But what about the folks who are all pinked and candied out? Or people and organizations for whom Valentine-themed marketing is neither appealing, appropriate, or perhaps just culturally dissonant? That last part, by the way, is quite relevant to nonprofits in a global world with a bigger audience, but one that’s far more complex, and perhaps in places and cultures where the idea is new, or simply doesn’t yet make sense.

It’s a worrisome question for nonprofits, especially those who are new, still trying to make a mark, or have just seen their fundraising or audience stall. For them, a day like Valentine’s Day seems like an opportunity to goose up the numbers. Unto them I would say, don’t. Just. Don’t. Don’t be the equivalent of a desperate date, the one who totally looks like s/he not only forgot the big day but also forgot to dust off the last, slightly smashed candy that happened to be available at the gas station convenience store on the way home. Oh what? That’s just me? Well, okay then ….

Here’s the thing: no organization can be all things to all people. It’s okay to simply defy the noise and sit out Valentine’s if you wish. In fact, if there is a reason I’ve pushed to fundraise immediately after the holidays, it was because I’ve been in organizations where the mission really didn’t overlap very well with romance, and allowed the fundraising staff to reach out ahead of time, and sit out the happy-but-inappropriate or just awkward noise of the Valentine’s fundraising push. Instead, it allowed the organization to simply acknowledge donors and communities, and share a little love, no strings attached.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of really great ways for nonprofits to take advantage of Cupid. You can eat out at places that will donate profits, support fair trade flowers and chocolate, send Valentines to the elderly, sick, and housebound. There are lots of ways to make the most of the day.

But if you do something that simply doesn’t lend itself to romance or sweethearts, sit out the party. Be different, and be authentic. After all, there is much to be said about the suitor who doesn’t wait for February 14th to make a romantic gesture.