Whatever-a-thon 2012

Easy to do a good job for something you believe in?

It could be…

Because that’s exactly what happened when a bunch of us got together to create the first Whatever-a-thon, a charitable fundraising drive for a local woman named Cyndi Desjardins, who needed help with some enormous medical expenses.

As a recent survivor of Necrotizing Fasciitis (the “flesh-eating disease”), Ms. Desjardins was now a quadruple amputee. And our task was to raise money towards the purchase of “myo-electric” prosthetic arms for her… so she’d have hands again.

At roughly $50,000 each, we didn’t expect to raise enough for a whole arm. But as the slogan we created made clear to everyone involved…

“Whatever you can do is worth it!”

The Whatever-a-thon event, conceived and spearheaded by my kid sister, was designed around a traditional “walk-a-thon”, but with an extra twist or two thrown in.

First of all, participants were invited to make their way through the designated route in just about any non-motorized means they liked… walking, running, jogging, rollerblading, bicycling, and more. And since it was a pretty short route through a park near Newmarket, northwest of Toronto, people were welcome to go around the course just once… or as many times as they felt like on a sunny afternoon.

That’s because the second ‘twist’ was to have everyone make their ‘participation pledge’ just for showing up, rather than the traditional “per kilometer” amounts. So regardless of the distance traveled (or even if they simply sent in their pledge form and donations), people were welcome to sit at a picnic table and chat with their neighbors all day if they wanted to!

And lots of them did, too… but we’ll get to that in a minute.

You see, before this would all come together as we hoped, we had to create a compelling, easy-to-use platform to request, accept and spread the word about donations for Ms. Desjardins. From there, I worked closely with the growing team of organizers for the event to create some of my favorite things…

Direct-response copy that sparks action… “today!”

And you wouldn’t believe how many times we added, tweaked and perfected it over the weeks of the campaign. Plus, a website, Facebook fansite, social media and email auto-responder messaging to get people involved with the event from the moment they heard of it. And to want to contribute, find out more and spread the word to their friends, associates, family members and anyone else they thought would like to help.

Initially, we created a unique online contest platform, designed to create viral buzz on Facebook. And some integrated social media messaging to spread the word virtually automatically (on Twitter, a blog and YouTube, mostly)

But when the contest application software failed to work as we’d hoped with the event date drawing near, that plan was scrapped and we put more energy into filling out the appeal and a secure e-commerce setup online, sending printed flyers and a small direct-mail campaign to a select group of ‘donation candidates’.

How did it all turn out?

Well, promotion started in earnest sometime in late March, using email and Facebook updates for the initial ‘warm crowd’ outreach. At the same time, a series of press releases and a concentrated direct media contact strategy got newspapers and local television news media involved, spreading the word and growing our list of contacts.

Within days, we started receiving online donations through the website, anywhere from $10 up to $500 per donation! In the weeks that followed, the pace picked up as we approached the kickoff date. Keep in mind, many of the $100+ donations were coming in from complete strangers to us, our cause or Ms. Desjardins. So the copy was doing its job!

Finally, the live “Whatever-a-thon 2012” attracted over 300 participants for the half-day event, where a group of dedicated volunteers helped keep everyone organized and having fun while we collected a flood of additional cheques and cash donations that filled a big “moving-box-sized” cardboard box.

When all of the donations were added up, we couldn’t believe how much money fit into that box.

We’d raised a total of

$51,328.01

… enough to pay cash for ONE of Cyndi’s new arms!

This was definitely one of those projects where we had as much fun writing the thank-you notes, email & social media messaging, and media follow-ups as we enjoyed creating the initial campaign.

And now, even though planning for next year’s event started almost as soon as we came back down from the clouds…

Give me a call to see if we can work the same kind of magic for YOUR cause, too!

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