In honor of the recent PR Boost on Aug. 15th, PRSA Colorado is doing a series of blog posts on nonprofit public relations in August. At PR Boost, each volunteer, who must have a minimum of three years experience, will consult with two nonprofit organizations during two separate 60-minute sessions. If you’re interested in contributing a blog post, please contact Liz Pope at evpope@gmail.com.

Pure would like to give kudos to our client, The Children’s Hospital Foundation, for successfully diving into the social media frontier by pioneering a new Facebook application.

This year posed a double threat to non-profits. A change in the media landscape coupled with unprecedented economic conditions has inspired the non-profit world to explore new frontiers to build brand awareness and engage donors.

Despite these challenges, The Children’s Hospital Foundation wanted to lead the pack of an estimated 351 hospitals using social networking sites, according to ebennett.org’s Hospital Social Network List.

Like many other nonprofits, the Foundation decided to rethink its online presence related to one of its annual fundraising events, the Courage Classic, a 3-day cycling tour through Colorado’s high country that draws 2,000 dedicated riders and has raised more than $22 million, over the past 20 years, for The Children’s Hospital. At first glance, the Foundation wasn’t sold on  a social networking site being the right outlet for Courage Classic cyclists since the average rider age is 45. But after reading data like this,

According to a report in March of 2009, Inside Facebook noted that there were more Facebook users 26-44 than 18-25 today. And in a separate report, they also noted that Facebook is seeing massive increases in adoption among users 35-65. In fact, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is still women over 55.

they knew they needed to remove the “age goggles” and create new ways to engage their average rider, and possibly reach an entirely new audience.

The Foundation enjoyed 20 successful years of helping riders tap friends, family and local businesses for donations. Now, the reality is that these communities of family, friends and local businesses are now living and thriving online – so why not reach them more efficiently. Riders were already familiar with and maximizing online fundraising on www.couragetours.com via Blackbaud’s Sphere Friends Asking Friends toolkit, a simple and easy-to-manage email and web application that has been highly successful for the Courage Classic the last few years.

With riders embracing the online fundraising through Blackbaud, it was only natural that they take it one step further.

First, they launched a Facebook Cause Page, which in a few short months accumulated nearly 400 members. The Foundation quickly began to use the Cause and Group pages, reinforcing communications to riders and making full use of this new channel. Despite hearing a few “What’s Facebook?” and “Isn’t that how people steal your identity?” comments, the team was pleased to see several online supporters. They thought, “Okay, it’s working – what’s next?”  The answer: Put your audience in the driver’s seat.

Wanting to harness a new channel, Zuri Group partnered with FreeCause to bring the Foundation a cutting-edge, online fundraising application – the Courage Classic Facebook Badge.

This first-of-its-kind badge has numerous capabilities to empower riders and their donor base to make valuable connections withimage002 the Courage Classic and Children’s. The most important and groundbreaking feature to this cost-effective tool is the orange “Support Me” button, which takes the riders’ friend to the official Courage Classic Web site, the riders’ page and directly links to a page to donate to the cause.  Badges used for fundraising typically steer a user to a third-party donation interface that not only cashes in on the proceeds, but also creates a serious barrier to the true cause and meaning behind the donation.

With FreeCause’s badge, a rider’s friend is driven to explore why he/she should support the Courage Classic, along with information about the event, up-to-date news, volunteer opportunities and the impact of their donations.

Additionally, the badge updates in real time with fundraising progress as well as a countdown to event date and personal fundraising goals. The Foundation also had unique capabilities to create, control and change the editorial content posted with the badge. When a rider added the badge to their page and invited friends to view their cause, messaging included why they ride and a photo of a child ambassador – the driving force behind the cause.

FreeCause and Zuri Group’s new and innovative social networking application helped Children’s advance social media; leverage new donor audiences and enhance public awareness. Together, they empowered loyal Courage Classic riders to expand upon the Foundation’s online community in support of their cause.

The Foundation’s social networking success was cemented by a comprehensive campaign led by one of Zuri Group’s senior strategists, in conjunction with the Foundation’s eCommunications Specialist. Segmented, sequential emails; Facebook status announcements; Web PR and other tactics to drive home the message: online fundraising through social networking is a fast and easy way to support a cause. A total of 530 riders adopted the badge.  In a mere five weeks from launch day to event day almost $11,600 was generated in donations.

For a minimal investment, the Foundation was privileged to be part of a groundbreaking non-profit advancement that helped them enhance brand awareness and increase donations.

With a willingness to think outside of the box and use social media to directly connect with potential donors, the Foundation has created a new toolkit that empowers their donors to directly connect with Children’s, creating a new layer of long time supporters.

This is just the beginning for Children’s and their online supporters. According to 12 Tips for Nonprofits On Getting Started With Social Media – tip #11 states that “Eventually you will want to start turning your ‘friends’ into activists, donors, and volunteers.” They have accomplished this by enabling their riders’ friends to wear all of these hats. With the capability to thank these people for their support via editorial content updates, Children’s can let them know how they helped to make it to the final dollar amount, the date for next year’s ride and how they can get more involved. Maybe next year you’ll see a team of cyclists climbing Vail pass wearing “Team Facebook” jerseys.

Kudos to The Children’s Hospital Foundation!

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