Category Archives: CreateAthon


A Riggs Partners community service program that provides pro bono marketing planning and materials to area nonprofits. There have been two offshoots: the National CreateAthon Network, with agencies across the country participating; and CreateAthon OnCampus, developed for the university setting. Combined gifts: $11 million

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.

Chronicle of Philanthropy Profiles CreateAthon

In the midst of the hustle-bustle that was last week, there was a blissful shining nugget that almost slipped by me. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the premier news resource of nonprofit enterprises, cast its mega-watt spotlight on CreateAthon. If you’re a Chronicle of Philanthropy subscriber, you can read it here. If you’re not a subscriber, here’s the goodness you missed.

The story shared the years-long effort of Riggs Partners in establishing the effort in 1997 and growing the one-night marketing blitz into a year-round, nationwide nonprofit entity. CreateAthon Executive Director Peyton Rowe also shared that the group is very busy during the “off season” forming a national board and finalizing strategic and financial planning.

We were equally thrilled the story included partner agencies ECG Group, verynice and Think Tank PR and Marketing. The piece featured projects from the 2013 CreateAthon including those for Epworth Children’s Home in Columbia, SC; The National Museum of Animals and Society in Hollywood, Ca.; The Girl Scouts of Suffolk County in Commack, NY; and Madison County Historical Society in Edwardsville, IL.

We’re always grateful for the never-ending flow of ideas and information that stem from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That they would give CreateAthon a big ol’ fist-bump is nothing short of a dream come true.

The value of pro bono

A recent article in the New York Times speaks to the importance of not working for free because it devalues all creative vocations, rendering our work worthless to a culture that often defines value monetarily. As a part-time freelance designer, I tend to agree with this premise in a practical sense. Why should I give my time, effort, and skills to someone at absolutely no cost? For exposure to new audiences? A chance to beef up my portfolio? The possibility of future work? While such offers sound appealing and may at times even benefit the creative, they are ultimately the equivalent of asking for a free 5-course meal at a fancy restaurant in exchange for a positive review on Yelp. Spending all your 9 to 5 efforts on a project for next to nothing in return could therefore be considered an insane waste of time.

Why then do we do it once a year, for 24 hours straight? Because pro bono is not just working for free, it’s consciously giving for free: giving of our time and talents to deserving nonprofits who’s jobs are to give of themselves every day; steadfastly giving back to our communities what they have so graciously given us — a chance to make the world a better place. As I reflect on CreateAthon and all the good that was done last week, I realize that not all work done for free is worthless or a devaluation of our creative talents. Pro bono work can in fact have far greater value when done for the benefit of other do-gooders. It’s this spirit of giving back, this CreateAthon, that continues a cycle of good in our community. This is our ever-so-small contribution to the continuing rotation of the great world around us. And for the joy set before us, we will do it again and again.

CreateAthon Global: Flights Departing Daily.

What began as that we’ll-never-be-able-to-pull-this-off idea on Lady Street has routed itself to some pretty interesting destinations this year. It began with the addition of several new CreateAthon partner agencies:

Oceanic Communications, Suva, Fiji
My sunscreen is packed. Don’t even think about getting in front of me on this one.

Orchid Communications, Jersey, Channel Islands
An archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. Royalty and flags are involved, which may motivate Kevin to travel.

Fleishman Hillard, Toronto, Canada
This powerhouse PR firm will launch its first CreateAthon in Toronto, which we understand to be an epicenter of social consciousness. Perhaps the next RP office location?

If this isn’t enough to get your pro bono mojo on, take a gander at the two newest marathon programs in Europe, which are cousins to CreateAthon. 

KreativMarathon, Hamburg
A pro bono marathon program formed earlier this year as a collaborative effort among two pro bono intermediary programs, Talent Spender and ReFrame, and advertising agencies in the Hamburg market. We had the honor of being approached by these organizations to offer support and encouragement for the first-ever pro bono marketing marathon in Germany. We were delighted to be listed alongside our friends at Pro Bono Labs (see below) and the BMW Foundation as leaders in the pro bono movement and active supporters of KreativMarathon.

So exciting, and even more so if we knew German. Feel free to let us know what it says.

Pro Bono Lab, Paris
We met these wonderful folks about two years ago, when they were in the midst of founding an organization to help companies in France learn how to create and manage skills-based, pro bono programs. They adopted the marathon marketing model as part of their portfolio (and are always kind enough to note it’s based on CreateAthon) and now offer a student model (thanks to CreateAthon on Campus).

See? Marathon? That’s us!

As exciting as it is for us to see CreateAthon attracting global partners and inspiring other marathon programs, what’s more important is the greater context of this news: That pro bono is moving, growing and reaching areas of the world in which the practice of “giving away your skills” has been a foreign concept, to say the very least. If CreateAthon can be part of overturning that paradigm and fostering new attitudes around the notion of what it means to serve, we’ll consider that a good day (and night).