Fundraising: TIC leverages star power to increase event's donations

When the Talking Information Center (TIC) was selected by celebrity-owned Mount Blue Restaurant as the beneficiary for its eighth annual fundraising event, the 26-year-old nonprofit group knew it had a once-in-a-lifetime PR opportunity.

When the Talking Information Center (TIC) was selected by celebrity-owned Mount Blue Restaurant as the beneficiary for its eighth annual fundraising event, the 26-year-old nonprofit group knew it had a once-in-a-lifetime PR opportunity.

When else would TIC - which reads magazines, books, and newspapers to the visually impaired via a network of radio stations - get the chance to have its name in print alongside restaurant partners Stephen Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith?

With only three full-time staffers, TIC quickly realized it would need outside assistance in generating sufficient press coverage for the event. As a result, it hired Tiffanie Williams & Co. to help craft its message for the media, as well as for the visually impaired community.

"There's a lot of administrative, technical, and fundraising work that has to go on," says Susan Donahue, TIC's director of PR, "so things like PR end up getting put on the back burner when you're short-staffed at a nonprofit."

Strategy

TIC's communications focused on increasing awareness within the visually impaired community by contacting publications. It also concentrated on fundraising angles to increase donations, as well as corporate sponsorships resulting from the event. Because ticket sales benefited TIC directly, the more people who attended the event, the better. Tiffanie Williams & Co. aided with an aggressive media outreach plan.

"Our campaign consisted of taking the event apart and maximizing it for all of the publicity it could receive," says Tiffanie Williams, president and founder of the agency. If TIC could reach a broader media base, it could count on more attendees, so the firm suggested leveraging the Aerosmith connection in order to garner statewide attention.

Tactics

Comprehensive press kits were created to introduce TIC's offerings to the media - before and after the event. Press releases on the fundraiser, a biography of the executive director, and a fact sheet on vision impairment were included. Tiffanie Williams & Co. also gave TIC's media contact list a makeover by updating existing information and adding their own media contacts.

At the event, agency staffers took photos and networked with journalists, ensuring that they received ample time with the representatives from Mount Blue and TIC.

The agency also donated a Tiffany bracelet to be auctioned off to raise funds. "That's the kind of people they are," says Donahue. "They didn't just do the job for us professionally - they really went a step beyond."

Media relations for TIC did not cease after the event. Tiffanie Williams & Co. personalized specific pitches afterward in order to ensure continued coverage. "The fundraiser was covered post-event more extensively than anything we've ever done," says Kirsten Whitten, integrated marketing specialist and director of PR for the firm.

Results

Because of Tiffanie Williams & Co.'s media outreach efforts, more than 500 people attended the fundraiser - the biggest turnout ever for a TIC event. The fundraiser brought in $45,000 for the organization, the largest amount received for a Mount Blue event. Media attention included a feature and photo in the Boston Herald.

"We aren't that newsworthy, but this was a chance to really create buzz with the media and translate it into credibility with these organizations," explains Donahue. TIC has used this media attention to gain continuing support for grants and other contributions.

Future

Following the success of the campaign, Tiffanie Williams & Co. was asked to help with TIC's next event - its annual golf tournament.

"As a nonprofit, we don't have the luxury of a full-time PR firm," said Donahue, "but we will use them as much as we can afford to. They made us realize that a PR firm isn't just a luxury - it really delivers."

PR team: The Talking Information Center (Marshfield, MA) and Tiffanie Williams & Co. (Quincy, MA)

Campaign: The Talking Information Center's Public Awareness Campaign

Time frame: June 7 to August 9, 2004

Budget: $2,000

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