While “regular”, aka, “for-profit” marketing, has its clear challenges, “not- for-profit” (NFP) marketing also has some that are uniquely their own. Namely, getting people to part with their hard-earned money, without the promise of fulfilling a tangible need or want. Asking people to donate their time, money or goods, all in the name of charity, one has to connect with them, even more than in for-profit marketing, on an emotional level.
Candace Huntly, founder of SongBird Communications, a boutique agency based out of Toronto, launched in 2013, was tasked with just that. Huntly says, that “having worked in financially-driven agency models, I wanted SongBird to be based more on a people and relationship-driven model. We take our client relationships personally and work with them to grow alongside them.” So the chance to help Wishes for Olivia, a not-for-profit organization that raises money for Make-A-Wish Canada in memory of Olivia Grace White, who died suddenly on December 26, 2012 at the age of 5 of an undiagnosed blood infection, was a great opportunity for Huntly, along with partner, Trevor Shorte, to give back and challenge themselves in the NFP space.
Wishes for Olivia and The Princess Ball, a family-friendly charity gala, was started by Olivia’s mother, Jennifer White, as a way to turn tragedy into a beautiful legacy for her child. While this was a heart-tugger-of-a-story and a great cause, it was still, with so many other worthy charities out there, all fighting for the same donation and sponsorship dollars, a challenge to stand out. Huntly shares that Wishes for Olivia, “had worked with a PR firm in the past, but there wasn’t a strong strategic foundation that fit within the overall event and organizational goals. SongBird worked directly with The Princess Ball organizing committee to evolve its strategic platform. We refined sponsorship and media outreach strategies to highlight the brand and find a way to tell the story in a more compelling way. The goal was to lay a strong foundation for future events by connecting with influencers and generating awareness among target brand sponsors.” To that end, they started by refining their sponsor outreach materials in order to target higher-value sponsors and decided to focus on the media and building relationships with key influencers. They accomplished this by running contests (ticket giveaways to the Princess Ball), acquiring notable hosts to MC the event (they secured celebrity host Stu Jeffries (Boom 97.3)) and focusing on media coverage of the event (with a goal of having Jennifer’s perspective included in all bylined articles about the event).
But even with this clear focus, SongBird still had some challenges. In the case of The Princess Ball, seling tickets to the event (they regularly would sell out within hours) was not the problem. They needed to raise bigger funds and to do that, they needed more substantial corporate sponsorship. They focused on on-site activities like a silent auction and raffle. When it came to media and influencer relations, many outlets were interested in helping to raise awareness to sell tickets, but not necessarily in event coverage. So they focused on telling Jennifer’s story and how she has dealt with the grief of losing a child. That focus helped them raise the public profile of the organization and expanded donation strategy for Wishes for Olivia outside of its flagship annual event.
It’s clear that this refined, well-thought-out strategy paid off: sponsorship, which included organizations such as Mabel’s Labels, David’s Tea, Campbell’s/Goldfish Crackers, Springfree Trampoline, Home Trust Company, Glama Gals, and Earth Rangers, among others for The 2016 Princess Ball more than doubled that of past events and a number of top tier brands used 2016 as an entry point for a larger investment in 2017. The overall donation to Make-A-Wish Canada from the proceeds for The Princess Ball increased by over 70% from the previous year. The two contests they ran, one with Baby & Life and the other with Canadian Family, resulted in thousands of views and entries for both. Media outreach leading up to the event resulted in positive coverage on Global News (segment feature on Jennifer White), CTV News, Baby & Life, Toronto Star, Today’s Parent, Canadian Family, Metroland, The Ward & Al show, and more. There were over 5 million opportunity to see (or commonly known as “OTS”) impressions. More importantly, each of the outlets reached an audience who didn’t know Olivia’s story and many people reached out via social media and comment forums in support of Jennifer and the work that she is doing. As Huntly notes, “hers is a story that needs to be heard – many parents go through grief-filled situations and Jennifer’s story is very inspiring.”
But again, when it comes to NFP marketing, the unique challenge is to make sure that the focus remains on the cause, as opposed to the brand (like in for-profit marketing). Huntly observes that, “while both types of marketing should have a strong story-base as the foundation for all outreach, NFP marketing is more about human interest while for profit focuses on the organizational brand story and how it can fulfill the needs of its customers. The trick for marketing and PR professionals is to build and maintain a positive reputation that will help reach organizational goals whether related to either sales revenue or donations.” Great words of advice for all those in the NFP marketing space.
Ryerson University is the winner in the Not for Profit category for our 2016 CAMP Marketing Awards!
Songbird Marketing Communications was a finalist in the Not for Profit category for our 2016 CAMP Marketing Awards!
Lian Novak is a Toronto-based marketing communications professional. She is passionate about brand management, writing and all things fashionable. Oh, and pie. Always pie. She can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her musings on Twitter @Lian_Novak.