ANALYSIS: CLIENT PROFILE - Habitat: more than just the house thatJimmy built

Habitat For Humanity is celebrating its silver anniversary this

year. Allen Houston finds out how the nonprofit has managed to attract

the support of US presidents and stay on top of the news agenda.

Americus, GA is a hot and dusty town about 10 minutes from former

President Jimmy Carter's boyhood home. The region is best known for

peanut farming, but it also houses the international headquarters of one

of Carter's dearest causes: Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat's main mission is providing low-cost housing for families in

need (it has built over 100,000 houses around the world over the past 25

years), but it is also known for its ability to attract the support of

Presidents past and present.

A major component of Habitat's success has been the presence of former

President Jimmy Carter, whose name has become synonymous with the

Christian nonprofit.

Carter, a friend of Habitat founder Millard Fuller, has been involved

with the group since 1984. He has built homes in the Philippines and the

US, and this year will travel to Korea to build 120 Habitat homes.

Carter was also scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the

organization's 25th anniversary celebration held last week in


"Once Carter got involved, it legitimized the charity in the eyes of

elected officials," says Michael Crook, Habitat's director of PR. "It

showed the White House staff that the logistics of Presidents donating

their time could work." However, dealing with the Presidential entourage

has its ups and downs. "Believe me, when a President arrives on a

Habitat site, it's like an invasion of blue suits taking over

everything," says Crook.

Carter has pledged his lifelong support to the organization. "As long as

I'm able, physically and mentally, then I'll be helping with Habitat

projects," he said in a press statement about his appearance at the 25th

anniversary celebrations.

Working with all the Presidents

While a common misperception is that all Habitat for Humanity houses are

free (in fact, the average Habitat house costs $46,000), the

greatest misconception that Crook works to change is that Jimmy Carter

founded the organization. "The first question that people ask me is,

'How is it working with Jimmy Carter?'" says Crook. "Most people assume

Habitat is his organization. We make a point of correcting reporters on

this, but having such a high-profile person work with your organization

is amazing."

Working with every President of the US has become a priority of the

group. In August, Habitat scored a coup, persuading George W. Bush to

build a Habitat home. The President, dressed in a blue work shirt, sawed

wooden boards during his month-long vacation in Texas, and managed to

hit the headlines by hammering his hand in the process.

Bill Clinton was involved with Habitat when he was president, visiting

sites in Botswana and Kasane when he toured Africa. Clinton also awarded

Habitat founder Millard Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the

highest award that a civilian can receive.

Habitat's Washington, DC office actively seeks to enhance its

relationship with the government. Crook thinks that Habitat's real draw

is that the group espouses good old American values, such as hard work

and altruism. "These are values that transcend the cultural and

political spectrum."

"We want to advance understanding about the issue of poverty housing,

and tell people that there is something they can do to help," explains

Crook. "To do that, we have to place our core message in ways that will

move people."

Recognition for hard work

Habitat must be doing something right. It was the No. 1 nonprofit group

in terms of media coverage between January and June of 2001. According

to PR measurement agency Delahaye Medialink, news stories about the

group appeared in all 50 of the highest-circulation newspapers in the

US, reaching 114.9 million people. That's almost twice the number gained

by the second-ranked nonprofit for the period, the Salvation Army.

Salvation Army PR director Craig Evans explains the reason for the

disparity: "Having someone such as Jimmy Carter at the public forefront

lends them a great deal of credibility."

But beyond the involvement of Presidents, Habitat has strong community

support. Paul Clolery, editor-in-chief of The NonProfit Times, which

covers Habitat's efforts, says, "Having a former President as your

talking head obviously helps, but I think just as importantly Habitat

does an excellent job of working with local communities on a grassroots

level. Building a house takes dozens of volunteers, and those volunteers

are going to tell dozens of their friends. It creates a ripple


Habitat also asks reporters to get involved in an active way. "When the

reporters work on building one of the houses, we almost always get a

story," says Crook. "Once reporters see the visible proof of people

working together to build a house for a family that needs it, they have

a good hook for their story." Habitat's PR department also sets up

interviews between the press and the families for whom the houses are


Habitat also aggressively targets TV executives and has produced a

selection of VNRs, which it distributes to Reuters TV and AP TV, among

others. Crook has even been to Northern Ireland to help make a VNR of

Protestants and Catholics working together to build a Habitat house.

Habitat's goals for 2001 are attracting more volunteers and raising its

profile overseas. The World Leaders Build program hopes to replicate the

success of US media campaigns. The program, in its second year, has

boosted the construction of 1,175 houses globally, and has involved more

than 29 current and former heads of state.

The PR team's latest US project is in its hometown, Americus, which will

soon showcase a 50-acre promotional attraction featuring different

styles of Habitat houses as they are built in India, Africa, and


The so-called "global village" may seem like an unusual tactic to

attract attention, but for Habitat, it's just another endeavor to keep

its name at the top of the news agenda. Delahaye Medialink calculates

that 97% of media stories about Habitat this year have been favorable -

not bad for a US staff of 17 with a modest PR budget of $320,000

a year.



SVP of communications: Dennis Bender

Director of PR: Michael Crook

PR officer: Angela Foster

Media relations officer: Kimberly Moore


Director, marketing & comms, Canada: David W. Beckerson

Communications specialist, Latin America/Caribbean: Steve Little

Media relations coordinator, Africa and Middle East: Sunanda Ghosh

Agencies (project basis): Hill & Knowlton; The Widmeyer Group

Yearly PR budget: $320,000

Yearly marketing budget: $500,000.

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