Published on April 18, 2017, at 11:00 a.m.
by Meredith Folsom.
Nonprofits face a challenge when it comes to promoting their specific advocacy or social cause. This is often due to a lack of funds that nonprofits have; the little funds nonprofits collect are put toward the direct cause of the nonprofit.
“Having worked in the nonprofit sector myself, I can attest to the fact that many nonprofit organizations lack the resources to produce marketing plans, collateral materials, websites and fundraising plans,” said Kelly Davis, National Professional Adviser to PRSSA and public relations consultant based in Columbia, South Carolina. “Much of the funding within these organizations is designated for direct services, yet they must market and promote those services in order to meet their missions.”
Teresa Coles, president of Riggs Partners, a marketing and communications firm located in Columbia, South Carolina, recognized the need for nonprofits to have proper strategies and materials in order to succeed. In 1998, Coles co-founded CreateAthon, a 24-hour pro bono marketing marathon, along with partner Cathy Rigg Monetti.
Coles notes that the concept for CreateAthon began with the need to effectively manage the agency’s pro bono work.
“We came up with crazy idea of pulling a creative all-nighter for charity,” she said. “Our idea was that if we focused on our pro bono work once a year in a concentrated period of time, that we would be able to produce more work than if we were to spread the work out throughout the year. I’m happy to report that hypothesis exceeded our wildest dreams.”
Coles originally created CreateAthon as a way to give back to the local community; however, it has grown into a national pro bono service model. Since 1998, CreateAthon has recruited more than 100 partner organizations as CreateAthon partners in North America, Puerto Rico and the UK. All told, CreateAthon volunteers have completed more than 3,500 marketing and communications projects for nonprofits at an estimated market value in excess of $24 million. CreateAthon currently has a 501©(3) status and is located in Richmond, Virginia.
“This is where CreateAthon comes in by providing much-needed services and bringing additional advice, counsel and expertise to assist the nonprofits with the long-term sustainability of their marketing efforts,” Davis said. “Nonprofits gain access to the marketing and communications skills they need to help advance their work.”
Professional and student-led teams create the pro bono work. After the 24 hours, the teams then present their communication material to the nonprofit clients.
“From the viewpoint of the CreateAthon volunteer, one of the most heart-warming moments of the event is when you make the final presentation to the client. This comes at the end of 24 hours (or more) of working through the night to develop the strategy, plan and creative materials,” Davis said. “You’re exhausted but energized, and the nonprofits are anxious and eager to see the results of your work. There are often tears of gratitude on both sides as the work is shared and the nonprofits begin to envision all of the doors that the creative work can open for them to better serve their clients and their community.”
Companies of all sizes participate in the marathon pro bono event. WE Communications, a digital communications and public relations firm located in Washington, D.C., has seen great results in CreateAthon. The pro bono work allows firms to give back to nonprofits; but it also creates employee engagement.
“CreateAthon is part of a bigger employee engagement movement,” said Rhian Rotz, director of corporate citizenship at WE Communications.
“We provide certain programs for employees to get involved,” Rotz said. “Enabling employees to be released from everyday job duties to work with nonprofits is really important. It is becoming more popular to support an employee’s professional goals as well as personal goals.”
The value of finding a good work culture that fits one’s needs and wants is becoming more essential to prospective employees. Firms, such as WE Communications, see the importance of offering such benefits to their employees.
“We have a program called WEtour that allows you to add an extra day to a scheduled work trip,” Rotz said. “The agency will pay to extend your travel. It’s all about supporting an employee’s passions.”
The agency is built upon the idea of learning beyond your desk. WE Communications recently had a group of employees visit a Seattle printing press for an experiential learning opportunity.
“Melissa and Pam, the founders of WE Communications, were very deliberate when designing the company,” Rotz said. ”Some might call it conscious leadership.”
The marathon event also challenges participants.
“Twenty-four hours [to produce quality work] is not a lot of time,” Rotz said.
CreateAthon was a perfect fit for the work culture of WE Communications. It allowed WE Communications participants to use their skills from their jobs to personally fulfill their volunteering goals. This experience allows PR students and professionals to use their skills for bettering the community around them.