Super Sized Brand-Building on a Value Meal Budget



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.




Smart Branding.

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.


Being Different.

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?


A Love Note To Facebook

There’s been an abundance of negative press, blogs, tweets, status updates and conversations surrounding facebook as of late. I don’t disagree with most of what’s been said – like the rest of you I’m no fan of their labyrinthine process to control personal privacy settings and am more than a little perturbed that my entire “info” section all but disappeared just because I didn’t want to link every last interest to some website somewhere.

That being said, when I logged onto facebook this morning something happened that made me want to express my undying love for what a fantastic tool it can be for non-profits. I’ve written before about why I love social media for non-profits – not only does Big Love Little Hearts communicate and engage with our donors and beneficiaries via social media we are also able to get a great deal of our mission accomplished through social media. We have found surgeons and hospitals to help children who need their heart repaired in developing countries in a matter of minutes on facebook and twitter as opposed to the weeks it would take offline.

Recently the families who need our help have sent their requests through facebook and those who have profiles have friended me personally and often post expressions of thanks on my wall or leave updates about their children on my (and Big Love Little Hearts) wall. I love that facebook lends a platform for that kind of public interaction…as many of our donors are facebook friends of mine they get to hear how the work we do is affecting lives straight from the people we’re helping.

This morning that was taken to a whole new level. Yesterday one of our donors made a post on her wall that she tagged me and Big Love Little Hearts in. It read:

Estrella Rosenberg those tickets sold out in like 20 minutes!!!! What a great thing you’re doing with Big Love Little Hearts …inspiring!! Can’t wait to see u at the game:) 🙂 🙂 🙂

Because I was tagged in the post it showed up on my wall where anyone I’m friends with could see it, view the post on her wall and comment on it on her wall. The father of a little boy we’re helping in the Philippines did exactly that – he commented directly on our donors page, sending “appreciation and love” from the Philippines. Without any intervention on our part, facebook created a direct connection between someone we help and someone who funds our mission.

I couldn’t pay for better donor engagement than that…I couldn’t plan better donor engagement than that! The great thing is that I didn’t have to. For all it’s hiccups, facebook offers an unparalleled platform to communicate with your donors and your beneficiaries.  I love facebook and if you’re a non-profit you should too.

Go show your facebook fan page some love today…it’s not just a megaphone for announcements about your next event or all the great work you’re doing. It is a free tool that can be crafted to foster an environment of communication and collaboration between you and your donors, the people you seek to help and the other organizations you work with. Done well it also allows for communication between each of those segments. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Build Community. Build Change.

What Steve Farber Taught Me At SOBCon (part two)


I just spent an entire post talking about Steve Farber‘s concept of making someone Greater Than Yourself, so why do I need to blog about it again?

In my last post I was talking about consciously making someone, or a whole group of someone’s, Greater Than Yourself. In this post I’m suggesting that you already are and that you should start being aware of it! If you tweet a lot, have a blog, have a facebook following, have any kind of following…you are already making someone greater than yourself.

You are influencing the people who read your blog posts religiously. You are informing the decisions of the people who have you on twitter lists. You are shaping the people who interact with you on facebook. Just because that’s not your intention doesn’t mean it’s not true.

A few things happened to me right before, during and after SOBCon that made me realize I needed to be a little more thoughtful in my role as a leader. Right before the conference started I got an email from a student on the east coast who was getting her MBA in Non-Profit. She was writing to ask for my advice and help starting her non-profit but she began her letter thanking me for my blog and informing me what a role model I was to her and her classmates. She told me what an asset my articles were to her and to her class and how necessary it was to have a positive example of a woman doing so much in the non-profit world. These same words were repeated to me by students I met here in Chicago shortly after SOBCon during a mentoring program I participated in.

I’m not sharing this to pump my own ego but because I was floored to realize that anyone outside my close circle of friends and colleagues read my blog or my tweets! I was leading groups of future change-makers and didn’t even know it. Being at SOBCon, and Liz Strauss in particular, made me not just accept that I was a leader in my peer group but embrace being a leader and commit to doing so thoughtfully with trust and purpose.

When thinking about Steve’s call to make someone Greater Than Yourself I realize I need to take that attitude into everything – and every way – I communicate. Every status update, every tweet, every blog post, every video is an opportunity to inspire and share knowledge.

I challenge you to do the same. The moment you make yourself part of the social media fabric by creating a blog, a twitter handle, a facebook profile, a youtube channel, etc…you’re making yourself someone else’s role model. The next time you say something to your audience do it with the awareness that you have the potential to make them greater than you. You have the potential to help them achieve their own version of greatness. You have the opportunity to inspire them to do the same for someone else.

To that end I want to remind all my readers:

YOU can change the world. YOU can start now. Build Community. Build Change.


Blogging From Global Pulse 2010, pt. 3

Global Pulse 2010 had real impact for me and my organizations. This final blog in my 3-part series on it is a love letter to #GP2010 that I sent in email form to Rob Lalka (@RobAtState), Global Partnerships Liaison for the Global Partnership Initiative in Secretary Clinton’s Office. In it I mention Jim Thompson (@JimAtState), who is Regional Director for Partnerships and former Acting Director of USAID’s Global Development Alliance.

Hi Rob,

I know I’ve said this in small ways via twitter, my blog and my comment on Mashable’s Global Pulse piece, but I wanted to express my appreciation for this remarkable initiative at more length.

Before I do I want to say that although my organization works in developing countries we do not have partnerships with USAID or any other USG office or program and are not seeking them. Similarly, we do not receive federal funding and do not seek or intend to seek it. My comments are sincere and not an attempt to flatter anyone into some kind of partnership or special consideration for any of my non-profits.

I can’t begin to articulate just how impressed I was by this landmark effort in government and more importantly, just how much value it was to me as an individual and to my organizations. My initial goal as a participant was to find new partners for Big Love Little Hearts and to address the lack of a singular source tracking all of the groups and agencies doing work in developing countries. I have another group, The 4F Club, that is a non-profit for other female founded NPO’s aimed at organizations that are still young (start up – 10 yrs) and lacking in resources. We are still in the development and strategy phase and I believe in a “bottom up” approach to both. Being able to interact with what I knew would be a large pool of both US and international young, female non-profit leaders was my ambition at Global Pulse for 4F Club. To say that these goals were achieved is an understatement.

I made more than a dozen new partnerships for Big Love Little Hearts over the course of GP2010. This will enable us to do more in the countries we’re already doing work in and has provided us opportunities to expand our work into new countries. Because of the kind of work we do this equates to countless more lives saved. Beyond that, through comments to my thread on Development Mapping and others posts in various forums, I was made aware of segmented mapping databases that will have an immediate impact on the efficiency of Big Love’s main program. Again, this will save countless lives – the kids we help, to put it bluntly, have expiration dates. If we can help them in time they live, if we can’t they die. Anything that speeds up the process of matching resources with need is highly impactful in our work….

…which brings me to what came out of GP2010 that I didn’t anticipate. Quoting my thread in Building Stronger Partnerships:

“Primarily we work by playing case worker and matching these children up with other NPO’s/NGO’s who already have a pre-existing mission team of pediatric heart surgeons traveling near them. When we can’t find them we find hospitals that are equipped and staffed appropriately and work with them to fund these surgeries. Transportation to and from, housing, aftercare and government regulations are just a sampling of the ancillary processes involved in getting surgery.

All of this takes help from a plethora of organizations and we do our best to locate any humanitarian or government group doing any kind of work anywhere near any of our kids. Despite the years I’ve been doing this I find out about new groups everyday and through various sources: google, twitter, facebook, word of mouth, etc.

There has to be a more streamlined source for this information. Is the U.S. Government working on any kind of database that tracks all of the various groups and agencies doing work in developing countries that NPO’s and NGO’s can have access to?

We have built amazing partnerships but it has taken a tremendous amount of time. I can’t imagine how much more efficiently we could all do our jobs if we were just aware of EVERYONE there was to consider building a partnership with.”

There is no more important factor in the success of Big Love Little Hearts’ mission than the development of the kind of interactive database I refer to above. Working around the lack of one is the single biggest time investment we make. In cases where children need surgery to repair their heart in their first month of life, lack of this kind of resource often contributes to lost lives. I spend countless hours thinking about and researching how something like this could/would function and who would have the capacity to build and fund it. Obviously it’s a project far too large for me or any other small non-profit to take on, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it because I am always thinking about the kids who ask for our help and how we can better help them.

To read Jim Thompson’s response to my question was an incredible relief. Knowing that this was something the USG is already exploring and hearing how it was being approached in such detail gave me faith that its’ fruition was more than just possibility. The opportunity to engage in the Development Mapping discussion via Jim’s Google Group outside of and after Global Pulse is to me, a testament of just how seriously USAID and other USG offices took GP2010 and an example of how you are truly using it to inform initiatives. With 7 million children on a waiting list to have their heart repair funded worldwide, I care deeply about the end result of any Development Mapping project – I greatly appreciate the ability to have even the smallest input into the shaping of it.

On a personal level, as I mentioned in my mashable comment, this was the largest discussion between people from hundreds of different countries, cultures, religions & politics where I have seen no hate speech of any kind. It was an inspiring and beautiful insight into the thousands of people whose daily lives are driven by the desire to effect positive change in the world. I was blown away by how intelligent and high-thinking the conversations were. I don’t know everyone who was involved in the creation and implementation of Global Pulse but I suspect you played a large role given your tweets. Please extend my sincere gratitude and congratulations for this incredible achievement to the appropriate people.

Estrella Rosenberg
Founder, Big Love Little Hearts

Blogging From Global Pulse 2010, pt. 1

Right now I am among more than 1000 people taking place in a 72 hour long online global discussion called Global Pulse 2010.
What is Global Pulse?  Essentially it is a collaboration event to bring together individuals and organizations who are doing work in or have an interest in the developing world. If that sounds like it applies to you, get the heck off my blog and go to now to join in the discussion.
I’m not participating as a blogger and it’s not why I’m here – I’m here representing one of my non-profits, Big Love Little Hearts, whose work takes place entirely in the developing world – but now that I’m here I want to blog about it because it’s awe inspiring!

The discussions going on here are lively and filled with the brightest of minds in various sectors connected to the developing world. I have spent the most time in two groups: Promoting Global Health and Building Stronger Partnerships as these are both central to what Big Love Little Hearts does. I am more than impressed by the ideas and passion of the participants in these groups!
*As a participant I agreed to rules that do not allow me to divulge who my conversations have been with or the exact content of them other than my own words. All content from Global Pulse 2010 is property of USAID, even my own posts, although I have permission to repeat them here as the author.

Following a post I made in reply to a thread in the Promoting Global Health forum I was asked if I leveraged partnerships with organizations local to our work in individual developing countries to help fill service gaps and if so could I share some best practices. This is my response…
Partnering with Other Organizations 02:22 AM UTC Mar 29, 2010

Thanks xxxxx!

Partnering with other organizations and agencies is primarily how Big Love Little Hearts achieves our mission. Even now as we are setting up a country program in the Philippines, we are doing so in partnership with two other organizations.

My best advice and best practices are:

Research: Invest time learning about what other organizations are doing in your cause field, both specific and broad (ex. in my case, congenital heart defects specifically and global health broadly) and where they’re doing it. Then invest some more time learning about what completely unrelated NPO’s, NGO’s and agencies are doing in the part of the world you’re working in. Lack of a unified and central database to access this information makes this an endless task, so spend a little bit of time each day doing it. [calling again for some division of our government to take this project on]

Practice Patience: You have an urgent case and you need help from another organization. You contact them, a couple days go by, you don’t hear from them so you contact them again. With marked impatience. Of course your needs are vital to you,  just like the needs of the organization you’re contacting are vital to them. Which means at least momentarily, they’re more important than yours. When you’re the one who needs the partnership more try to take that attitude with you into every interaction.

Listen: To that end, listen to what their needs may be, what their limitations are, and for strengths & services you might not have known they had. Always try to collaborate and partner in a way that benefits both organizations instead of being a drain of one and a boost to the other.

Ask: Ask for everything you hope to achieve with their help, and if they can’t help you ask them if they know who can. I can’t stress this enough. Not everyone volunteers information, even volunteers!

Be Flexible: Especially when partnering with other organizations to fill service gaps, flexibility is key. Don’t close the door on a potential partner just because they can’t help you in the exact way you envisioned this time around. They might be a tremendous partner in the future!

Have An Army of Volunteer Translators: Most of my best practices are really principles of good communication. If you don’t speak the language of the country you’re doing work in, make sure you have on-call translator to ensure what you’re trying to communicate is being understood correctly and that you understand what is being said back to you. All of the above are useless if language is a barrier.

I hope that helps, xxxxx – I’m certainly no expert but it’s been a part of my daily experience for years.

content category: Best practices & lessons learned