Clinton, Cone help children's charity with benefit event

It's not every day that a former US President agrees to headline a nonprofit's fundraiser. It's even rarer when that organization is a grassroots group that's only 3 years old and operates in just one state.

PR team: Cradles to Crayons (Quincy, MA) and Cone (Boston)
Campaign: Drawing a Brighter Future fundraiser
Time frame: February to April 2005
Budget: $59,000 (donated)

It's not every day that a former US President agrees to headline a nonprofit group's fundraiser.

It's even rarer when that organization is a fledgling, grassroots group that's only 3 years old and operates in just one state.

Yet that was the scenario for Cradles to Crayons, a Boston-area charity that provides everyday objects, from coats to books to crayons, to poor and homeless kids in Massachusetts. For the group's first-ever fundraiser, Bill Clinton had signed on to tour the organization's storage and distribution warehouse, and then to speak at the evening dinner.

For help in staging and building buzz for the event, Cradles turned to Cone, whose staff a year earlier spent a day volunteering at the warehouse.

"We approached Cone to help us think about what the key themes are behind what we do, and how could we say to the community in Boston, as well as our guests at the fundraiser, what Cradles to Crayons is all about," says founder Lynn Margherio.

Strategy
Cone determined that essential to its pitch to the media and public was an emphasis on the fact that Cradles was a small group with no endowment.

"We wanted to be sure the media understood that this was truly a grassroots organization," says Cone EVP Mike Lawrence, who spearheaded the volunteer effort. "It was extraordinary that their first fundraiser was headlined by Bill Clinton ... but this was just a group of people in the state doing their thing."

Particularly for the potential donors, the campaign and the event also needed to include an educational component.

"We did not have exposure to the community that we were going to invite to our event," says Margherio. "We wanted to make sure that they learned enough about us at the event that they would be interested in what we had to do, and we could then go back to our guests for additional support going forward."

Of course, with such an honored guest, both client and firm also wanted to make sure that the day went off without a hitch.

Tactics
Nineteen Cone staff members poured 340 donated hours into planning and pitching the April 28 event. Their first step was to develop a creative theme for the dinner, and out of almost 20 possibilities, "Drawing a Brighter Future" emerged as the winner.

They then consulted with Cradles representatives on site and scheduling issues, as well as on the creation of a five-minute video explaining the group's work and the necessity for further support. They also coordinated extensively with Clinton's advance and media teams, as well as the Secret Service.

Advanced media coverage was also crucial as, along with calendar listings, major stories would help attract ticket buyers and potential donors to the dinner.

"We got a couple of papers to do some stories about the group and one of Boston's TV stations did a story in advance of the fundraiser," says Lawrence. "So it had a bit of a profile without Clinton in it, and that was the goal. And then, when he came to town, there was a whole separate story around that."

Results
The fundraiser netted $1 million. More than 150 volunteers and a host of reporters joined Clinton as he toured the warehouse. At the dinner, he spoke to over 800 people, including Gov. Mitt Romney and the owners of all four local professional sports teams.

Media attention was also high, with coverage including The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and the local NBC affiliate - in some cases, both in advance and on the day of the event. In addition, a wire service photo of Clinton accepting a Boston Celtics jersey emblazoned with his presidential number of 42 in front of a Cradles podium was picked up widely across the country.

Future
Cradles hopes to serve 25,000 Massachusetts children in 2005 and, in coming years, to expand to other New England states and to the rest of the US.

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