During Mardi Gras last year Big Love Little Hearts wrapped up Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week with a trip to New Orleans: Big Love in the Big Easy.
Since Mardi Gras is going on as I type I’m remembering how much fun I had there but I’m also remembering how many valuable lessons I can share with you from the how, what and most importantly – why – we did what we did.
When you’re a small organization and especially when you’re a new one, every last dollar counts. While your impulse is to use every dollar raised for program and mission, you need to invest in brand building and awareness raising. What matters is that you’re smart in how you spend it and maximize the opportunities you choose to the nth degree.
As an 8 month old organization (our age at the time of Mardi Gras last year) we had four concerns: building good programs, funding those programs, building our brand so the public associated us with the cause of heart defects, and raising awareness of heart defects so people knew they were a problem that needed fixing.
I chose to do a brand-building and awareness campaign at Mardi Gras because it fulfilled all four of those.
We had interest from several students at Tulane to start a fundraising chapter for us in New Orleans so I had already planned on being there at some point. I really like to maximize my travel expenses and whenever possible build in multiple purposes – that’s what I did here.
I arranged meetings with the students and appointments with several venues and potential partners for the days following Mardi Gras to make it a worthwhile trip on the fundraising side.
On the program side, I made appointments with pediatric cardiologists and cardiovascular-thoracic surgeons who could help us accomplish the meat of our mission: delivering lifesaving heart surgery to children in developing countries.
The last two goals, brand-building and awareness, are why I chose to go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras though.
When raising awareness for your cause the chief goal is always to raise that awareness among people who don’t know about it. Brand-building has the same goal (along with increasing brand position among the people who already know about your cause).
Both these share a similar problem: reaching people on a broad basis outside of a narrowly confined demographic can be expensive. It’s a challenge to find an event, venue or platform that encompasses people from all over the country and from all walks of life that isn’t already inundated with cause messaging (like facebook).
Mardi Gras is filled with people from every corner of the country (and beyond!) and people from every demographic you can think of.
My cause, heart defects, has an incidence of 1 in 100. Few of the nearly 40 identified defects have genetic links and do not correlate to any demographic. For us, everyone is our demographic.
We brought 1500 Mardi Gras beads and a couple hundred t-shirts with our branding to New Orleans with us to give away during the parades. While that alone would have exposed us to a large and diverse audience, we did some things that really amplified our impact and made the dollars we spent wiser.
We tried to make our beads unique. They were red with a big heart pendant where we printed our log0 and our web address. They needed to be unique enough for people to want to take home with them where they might look us up online.
We printed our logo and web address on the backs of our t-shirts. People spend more time behind someone than they do walking towards them. Our t-shirts are made of soft, high-quality cotton and fit well…people like to wear them, and they like to wear them most to the gym – where someone might spend up to an hour behind them on a treadmill staring at our logo and web address.
Talking To, Not At.
We didn’t stand on a balcony or a float and throw beads and t-shirts at people. We put the beads on people’s necks for them. We told them who we were. They asked us what we did and who we helped. We had conversations.
Similarly, we had conversations with the people we gave the t-shirts to. Having to ask them what size they’d need started a dialog and every last person who got one wanted to know more about us.
Just by having conversations we created an experience for them that differentiated us from the hundreds of other businesses and groups throwing beads at them – this gave them a reason to remember us and talk about us to their friends.
Besides differentiating ourselves by engaging with the crowd, we were the only cause there giving out beads and t-shirts.
When you do something no one else is doing, even when it’s as simple as giving out beads at a parade, you let people know you’re forward thinking. Never underestimate the importance of this: innovation and out of the box thinking are key to solving social problems. Donors want to see you think this way everywhere.
We did the most we possibly could with this opportunity and it paid off. We saw a huge spike in page visits and newsletter sign-ups in the days following Mardi Gras and started receiving donations from new supporters immediately.
How can you maximize your brand-building and awareness spending?