With over 100 years of service, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is one of those top tier non-profit brands that has a high level of awareness. Yet most people think the organization needs volunteers, not money.
In these challenging economic times, however, Big Brothers Big Sisters, which often turns to corporate partners for financial support, is doing something it has never done before: reaching out to the general public for donations. In a campaign starting today called "Start Something," Big Brothers Big Sisters is using a mix of television and print advertising, outdoor media, online advertising, and social media to get its message across.
The public service campaign was created with the help of the Advertising Council. To fund the "Start Something" campaign, corporate partners Arby's, Comcast, and Nivea made contributions, and AOL, Facebook and MSN Advertising committed to running online ads.
The request for funds is a subtle part of the overall pitch, which focuses on the relationships built between mentors and children. Big Brothers Big Sisters asks adult volunteers to commit at least one year in mentoring children who are generally deemed at risk, because they are disadvantaged or come from single-parent households. As part of the campaign, Big Brothers Big Sisters will literally turn the camera on itself, asking their volunteers and the children they assist to make videos of themselves -- a natural for social media marketing.
Dani Nadel, president of the ad agency (Publicis Modem USA) that worked on the campaign, tells the New York Times, "We were looking for a way to create a personal connection and engagement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we felt the best way to do this was to show the impact these relationships have. Social media is a great way to create a first-hand experience of the true benefits of the program."
The organization's newly updated website shows the beginnings of how the campaign will unfold. The headline, "Start Something," is accompanied by this copy: "Donate your money or time to help a child reach his or her potential. It might be the start of something big." Rotating graphics feature various scenes of adult volunteers helping children. The website visitor can click on numerous "Real Life Stories," which at this point, are all text. Eventually, video stories will appear on the site as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.
The timing of the campaign is significant because the organization's income has dropped in recent years. In 2009, revenue was $278 million, vs. $290 million in 2008. It costs about $1,000 per year to help each child. In 2009 the organization helped 227,000 children, down from 255,000 children the year before.
Mack Koonce, COO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, tells the Times, "People know us for our mentoring, but not what we achieve, our outcomes. And we're known as a place to volunteer more than a place to donate.
"The campaign's edge, according to Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, "is the fact the the 'Bigs' and the 'Littles' will contributing content. It's a creative move to empower laypeople, volunteers and kids, to produce advertising media for a large organization."