Transform Your Holiday Cards Into Something Actually Useful

Use these tips for a more awesome--and memorable--year-end greeting.

Sending holiday cards may seem like just one more thing on your to-do list this month. But if you rush through it, you’re missing a chance to really nurture social ties and build goodwill.

“The mortal sin of holiday cards is to just sign your name,” says Samara O’Shea, author of For the Love of Letters and a former professional letter writer. People take this approach because “they feel obligated to send Christmas cards, and this is the easy way to do it.” But it’s a false economy. The easiest way to do it is not to send cards in the first place. If you’re going to bother buying cards, signing them, addressing them, and sending them, why not take a few more seconds to do it right?

“What an opportunity to get your brand in front of someone--to communicate with someone whatever your values are,” says William Arruda, a personal branding consultant and author of Ditch, Dare, Do. Here’s how:

1. Limit your list.

Tangential acquaintances are already keeping up with you on social media. Arruda reports that rather than send cards to everyone, he’s focusing on “Who are the people I really want to reconnect with before the end of the year?” These people get a small gift with an individually crafted note. Even if you’re sending cards for business reasons, only send the number you can personalize. Put it this way: If 60 seconds of extra work lands you some repeat business, that’s a pretty good return on investment. Generic cards land in the recycling bin fast.

2. Make it about them.

Write a few sentences on each card about what the person means to you, or a fun memory you have of the recipient from the year. Mention the person’s family or thank the recipient for something he’s done. “Don’t go on and on about your accomplishments--that’s what Facebook is for,” says O’Shea. Don’t fret if your penmanship isn’t going to win awards, it's the fact that you took the time to write a handwritten note, not how pretty it is that matters.

3. Think outside the envelope.

A personalized video can serve the same function as a holiday card. Arruda records holiday messages for some friends and relations using VideoBio: “There is no searching for the right cards and addressing, so it’s super easy. I just set up my little video environment, make sure the lighting is good, and do a whole bunch of them in a row,” he says. Animoto is another video service that lets you incorporate pictures of you and the recipient.

4. Make a statement.

Use cards that say something about what is important to you. A number of nonprofits--UNICEF, the American Cancer Society--sell cards that support their mission. If you’re artistic, incorporate one of your designs into your card, or support a designer or photographer you like. If you’re locally focused, use a card that emphasizes your community.

5. Give something fun or useful.

One way to keep your card out of the recycling bin? Make it edible. Arruda recalls receiving a cookie from a vendor with a message printed on it. “It was good to read the message, and even better to enjoy the cookie,” he says. Creative types might design a puzzle: a crossword, a word search, even something numerical. Foodies might print a favorite recipe on the card. Or try cards from Bloomin, which contain live seeds in the paper. Recipients plant the card and get flowers in the spring.

6. Shift the time frame.

“It’s that time of year when you get 50 cards, so even if it’s a great card it loses some of its oomph,” says Arruda. So consider sending New Year’s cards. Or Groundhog Day cards. No one will be expecting them then, and with a personalized note, your card will really stand out.

[Image: Flickr user Kelly Sikkema]