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Story doing, NOT storytelling

Back in October, I inadvertently volunteered to be on the committee at my kid’s school for the yearly Jog-A-Thon fundraiser. While I thought I was only volunteering for the day of the event, during the hour-long planning meeting I realized my marketing and business experience might come in handy. They needed help.

I started to rethink the initial fundraising efforts and the associated prizes. Why would someone raise $50 for a $3 dollar gift certificate to the frozen yogurt shop? Why were almost all the prizes things someone could buy locally for 1/25th of the price for what was raised? And besides not having a really enticing incentive, what were they doing to promote the event? Well, in the past it was just a letter sent home in an envelope with the child.

I asked the committee about the possibilities and limitations. There were none to speak of—prior committees just hadn’t spent time thinking about other options aside from what was done in the past. So, I stepped into marketing mode, and asked, “What do the kids really want?” I was able to convince four other parents to help conduct impromptu focus groups with their kids’ classes—asking the kids what they’d want as an incentive, within reason. The responses ranged from surfboards to silly bands, but at least it pushed us in the direction to think outside the box.

In the end, I thought it best to focus on one unique prize to start off. The parameters were that the prize needed to be unisex and something that everyone might want, and that it should cost about $5 or less to produce. What’d we come up with? A hand-illustrated trucker hat with a new interpretation of the school brand, which could be worn by anyone and would also help to promote school spirit and raise awareness of the school within the community.

While the hat was in the works, we updated the Jog-A-Thon promotion letter to be mailed out, designed a variety of posters to be hung around campus three weeks in advance, and the week before the event, we recruited kids to hold promotional posters at drop-off lines before and after school to help drive the message home—literally.

Did it work?

It did! (If it didn’t I guess I wouldn’t be writing about it!) But the most interesting turn of events was the fact that the parents wanted the hats as much or maybe even more than the kids. At the hat prize level, we raised more then two times more money than past years, and as a whole, we raised 20% more than the previous year.

It feels great to do the right thing. And as rewarding as it is to help our clients tell their stories (and help them find new ways to story-do), it really feels wonderful to apply my skills and make a real difference to a cause so close to home.






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