Category Archives: Nonprofits

Nonprofits

We have high regard for nonprofit organizations and the important work they do, and we consider it an honor to work in partnership with them.

A Smashing Success: PR Case Study

For the past year and a half, several of us at Riggs Partners have immersed ourselves in the “better burger” fast casual segment of the restaurant industry. Through our work with two separate franchise owners, we’ve helped to open the first three South Carolina locations of Smashburger, one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in the nation. Smashburger’s corporate office in Denver places a strong emphasis on public relations with limited paid advertising supplementing the marketing effort.

Smashburger grand openings follow a formula established by their corporate marketing team. This tried and true plan has guided the company through more than 240 store openings in the US and several international markets. Our grand openings include four private events before the public opening: a “Friends and Family” preview event for the franchisees’ closest friends, associates and vendors; a media event for the “ceremonial first smash” with a local celebrity; a VIP event for local dignitaries; and an “Eat and Tweet” for local food bloggers and online influencers.

For each store opening, Smashburger’s franchise owners have partnered with a local charitable organization in their respective markets. In Columbia, the partner is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia. In Charleston, the partner is the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Children’s Hospital Fund. Our clients don’t just want to write a check; they want to have a long-term, ongoing relationship with these organizations that make a meaningful impact on the lives of children. For each of the first store openings in the Columbia and Charleston markets, the respective franchise owners agreed to donate $1 per Smashburger or Smashchicken sandwich sold during their grand opening month to their charitable partner, with a minimum commitment of $5,000.

One traditional component of a Smashburger grand opening is the “celebrity smasher.” For both Columbia and Charleston, the charitable angle opened the door to a wonderful tie-in for the celebrity smashers. In Columbia, we invited two pairs of “Bigs” and “Littles” with Big Brothers Big Sisters to be our smashers. A Big Brother/Little Brother pair and a Big Sister/Little Sister pair served as our smashers, which was the first time that children had served as celebrity smashers at any Smashburger. In Charleston, we invited a 13 year-old girl with a very rare disease who has been treated at MUSC throughout her life. She smashed burgers alongside the Mayor of Summerville, who just so happened to have worked as a short order cook one summer as a teenager. It was fun to see them in the kitchen smashing the store’s first official burgers together.

Hayden, age 13, smashes the Summerville store's first burger.

Hayden, age 13, smashes the Summerville store’s first burger as her mother Cindy looks on.

Each of the grand openings has been a “smashing” success with terrific media coverage and a smoothly executed series of events that brought hundreds of guests through each store during their preview events. The two Columbia stores combined have raised more than $10,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters, while the Summerville store raised $8,147 for MUSC Children’s Hospital as a result of the overwhelming sales in its first month.

"Bigs" and "Littles" from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia teamed up to smash the Irmo store's first official burgers.

“Bigs” and “Littles” from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia teamed up to smash the Irmo store’s first official burgers.

Some of the lessons we’ve learned during these retail grand openings include:

  • Practice makes perfect. Have a “dress rehearsal” to iron out the kinks beforehand.
  • Get local. Find a charitable partner or some other community tie-in.
  • Focus on quality over quantity. Packing hundreds of guests into the restaurant may build curiosity from the outside, but we’d prefer that guests enjoy a leisurely paced meal and an overall great experience.
  • Make it fun. Be sure that guests aren’t just treated to free food, but also enjoy a festive atmosphere. We’ve hired balloon artists, ordered fun promotional items and given out coupons for repeat visits.
  • Build ambassadors. By pulling back the curtain into the store’s menu and operations, we’ve secured a great deal of goodwill for the restaurant and its owners.
  • Evaluate. Always take time to do a “post mortem” meeting during which you discuss what worked, what didn’t and how you can improve next time.

While Riggs Partners has developed a strong reputation through the years for our work in the nonprofit sector, we find just as much reward when we work with business owners who have a deeper sense of purpose – something that motivates them to develop and deliver upon a mission that may or may not be obvious to their customers. The next time you bite into that burger or slurp that shake, keep in mind that you just might be helping someone in need.

CreateAthon Case Study: District 5 Foundation

When we concocted the idea of CreateAthon all those years ago, we were careful to identify the kinds of organizations we believed would be best suited for our 24-hour pro bono model. That list was pretty simple: a candidate had to be a private, 501© 3 organization, as opposed to a governmental agency, church or school. So when we got an application from the District Five Foundation last year, we weren’t quite sure what to do with it. Wasn’t it a school district program? Wouldn’t that break the rules? Upon closer inspection, we learned the Foundation was indeed a private, nonprofit organization in good standing, comprised of parents who were dedicated to raising money for all manner of important educational initiatives that otherwise would not be publicly funded.

Color us intrigued.

We learned that in just a few short years, the group had raised upwards of $60,000 annually to deliver some really impressive programming, resources and experiences to District 5 faculty and students. Their goal was to up their game, reaching the $100,000 fundraising mark annually. 

The communications issue was two-fold: 

1. Nobody understands why a Foundation is necessary in the public school system (aka “I pay taxes, enough already”).

2. Nobody understands why a gap in public school funding is everyone’s issue, and what’s at stake if we don’t fill that gap (more well educated students yield a better workforce, better leaders, and a stronger community).

We understood the intellectual value of what these folks were trying to do, but we knew the message could be a real yawner. What absolutely set us on fire, however, was the passion of the parents who were in involved in this gig. So we got our 24-hour game on.

Here’s a quick look at how we addressed their objectives.

Nomenclature and identity: After the necessary research, we determined the organization needed to be called what it was. No time or budget for cutesy conceptual names.  The ever-magnificent Maria Fabrizio developed an identity that put FIVE front and center.

Brand strategy: We developed a comprehensive message platform based on the thesis that District Five Foundation is the only organization that can move beyond the confines of public education budgets and deliver the kinds of advanced learning experiences students and teachers deserve.  It’s all about getting past barriers and making things happen.

Website: Our fellow Weconians, truematter, rose to the challenge yet again and led the way toward a web site that distinguishes the Foundation’s work and makes it imminently clear how people can get involved. 

Development strategy: We helped the Foundation diversify its development plan by developing engagement opportunities for four different giving audiences. We also outlined tiered giving levels, with engagement opportunities for specific audiences and initiatives.

Social media: Keely Saye and team worked their digital marketing magic, delivering a buyer persona study, content strategy, keyword research and editorial calendar to fuel social media growth and web site traffic/engagement.

A year later, we’re told the CreateAthon work has significantly helped the organization raise its profile within the community and attract new levels of support. Specifically, the Foundation is on track to exceed its fundraising performance from last year, which will allow it to bring more, different, and better educational opportunities to students and faculty.

We think that deserves a high Five. 

Full Circle Moments and Life-Changing Conversations

It was just about a year ago that Teresa Coles casually asked me if I could stop by the WECO so she could run an idea past me. As we settled into the cozy comfort of the green room, I was a bit bowled over when she asked if – after nine years of owning my own public relations consulting firm – I would consider joining the team at Riggs Partners. And not just joining the team, but heading up a new division to add public relations to the agency’s already impressive suite of services.

To fully understand the shock, surprise and overwhelming sense of “Me? They want me?” I have to take you back to 1998. I was in my second job out of college, working as the Community Events Coordinator at Carolina Children’s Home, a residential treatment facility for abused and neglected children. As with most nonprofits, the children’s home often struggled with having the resources to produce the kind of materials that we needed to help us solicit community support. We heard that a local marketing firm was going to offer free services to area nonprofits, and applied to see if they would develop a brochure for the Home.

As you may have guessed, we were selected as one of the first nonprofits ever served by Riggs’ signature program, CreateAthon. What they probably saw as a small, simple, 8-page brochure was like gold to us. When we went to speak to civic organizations and potential corporate sponsors, we now had an attractive, professional piece that beautifully described our work and explained how our community could help us give our kids a better life.

Over the years, I had numerous opportunities to observe Riggs through our shared professional associations and connections. I attended open houses and parties in their old office on Lady Street. I dropped off snack foods and supplies one year for CreateAthon, just because. I cheered for them at industry awards shows, because it’s great to see good people do well. I even got a chance to be their client when I worked for another nonprofit in the early 2000s.

In 2011, I reached out to ask if I could volunteer at CreateAthon, and received a very enthusiastic call from Teresa inviting me to work alongside her as an account manager for two clients. Of course, I was hooked and again volunteered for CreateAthon in 2012, this time serving as a lead account manager. It was a true full circle moment to go from CreateAthon client to CreateAthon volunteer.

I loved being my own boss for nearly a decade. Some of the proudest work of my (gulp) 20-year career came during that time. I was fortunate to work with amazing clients and meaningful causes. But just as I felt the pull in 2004 to venture out on my own, in early 2013 I was feeling the pull that it was time for a change. I just wasn’t sure what it was.

Thankfully, Teresa did. To say that I’m grateful to be a part of this team is an understatement. I have the best of both worlds – the opportunity to develop our public relations department with the same entrepreneurial spirit that I used to build my own company, and to be a part of an incredibly talented and generous team.

So, the next time someone invites you for a casual conversation, keep your ears, your heart and your mind open. That conversation just might change your life.

In Pursuit of Purpose

We had to see it coming: Aaron Hurst, founder of Taproot Foundation and the guru of the pro bono movement, has moved beyond inspiring us to share our professional skills as a means to social good to building an entire economic sector around doing work that matters.

Aaron’s new gig is CEO of Imperative, a cadre of social entrepreneurs, product developers, economists and all-around brilliant creative minds. They’re on a mission to create a fully functioning Purpose Economy by 2020. The bottom line? Helping people and organizations uncover, activate, and monetize work that leaves a mark on this world — and making a good living doing it.

I got a preview of this big fat idea last winter, when I attended the first-ever Global Pro Bono Summit, hosted in NYC by Taproot. Our last exercise was to figure out – in 15 minutes, no less — how to transform the pro bono marketplace into a $20 billion economy by 2020. We burned up some post-it notes on that, let me tell you.

Those close to Aaron knew he was already at work on the Purpose Economy, writing a book while making the transition to Imperative. Ever watchful for news of the book release, I noted the announcement by Imperative just this past week of the Purpose 100, a compilation of people throughout the world who are deemed to be “transforming our innate need for meaning into the organizing principle for innovation and growth in the American economy.”

In a culture obsessed with the “awards season,” it’s refreshing to see people recognized for their bravery, creativity and tenacity in pursuing something larger than themselves.

I encourage you to spend a few moments with this list and consider the ways in which these remarkable human beings have channeled the talents, experiences and relationships they’ve cultivated in their lives into a force for good.

Then get out a sheet of paper and start looking for your purpose. It’s there, just under the surface, waiting for you.

Own Your Contradictions: How to make the most of confusion around the work you do

Brand strategy is nothing more than the truth. Like great strategy, the truth is simple. That doesn’t mean it is easy.

What makes the truth difficult is the uncomfortable debate, the idiosyncratic exception or the inherent contradiction. And therein lies the opportunity.

Rick Ridgeway, VP of Environmental Affairs at Patagonia, recently penned an essay, “The Elephant in the Room.” Ridgeway acknowledges that while Patagonia has enjoyed growth, continued growth is ecologically unsustainable. He admits Patagonia’s “uneasy relationship with growth,” and continues a dialogue began on Black Friday of 2011 with Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in the New York Times, something I blogged about in 2011.

Likewise, there is discussion at Riggs Partners regarding our own growth and profit relative to our emphasis on pro bono, love of nonprofit work and embrace of the cause du jour. Let the “what abouts” continue, as business is nothing but the commerce of constant course correction.

Business complexities shouldn’t cause confusion; they should prompt candor and clarity through conversation.