From corporate alliances to its new Web site, the nonprofit is counting on PR to boost membership
Two months ago, when new CEO Lisa Tate arrived at WomenHeart, the national nonprofit for women with heart disease, she and her team deemed it a good moment in the organization's history to revamp its communications efforts.
The reasons behind the move went beyond a new leader attempting to shake some life into her new organization. WomenHeart was due for a fresh start. It had grown steadily in its first decade, but with 16,000 members, Tate knew there was ample opportunity to reach even higher.
"There are 8 million women with heart disease in this country," says Tate. "Our biggest push is to build awareness of our organization and the information and services we provide to heart patients by increasing our membership. We're going to be focusing on that for the next year or two. While we reach lots of women right now, we're still just at the tip of the iceberg."
Tate's arrival from the National Association of Children's Hospitals came at just the right moment. There is, in fact, very little time to waste for the team to prepare its new communications materials. February marks Heart Month, and WomenHeart will launch many of its new efforts as the national month dedicated to healthy hearts kicks off.
The key to all communications plans during Heart Month, says Tate, is to keep the issue top of mind with women across the country.
"It's trying to take what's been a fairly nascent communications strategy to something that's much more proactive," she explains.
Two corporate partnerships with General Mills were signed for the month, and the organization's logo will adorn boxes of Cheerios and cartons of 8th Continent Soy Milk in February and March. Tate says pushing the corporate partnerships is a big part of the new communications strategy, providing new avenues for awareness building.
"When you're a small organization, a lot has to get done on a shoestring," she notes. "So what I'm seeking to do is reach more corporate partners to work with them and create a synergy between our organization and their customers."
At the same time, WomenHeart plans to launch its new Web site, a badly needed revamp that will drive its efforts to be more proactive in the online space.
Tate says a look at its site's numbers shows the need for improvement. In August, there were more than 112,000 visitors to the site, compared with less than 30,000 for the same month the previous year.
The new site will not only be an improvement for recruiting new members, but will offer the organization a platform to expand its online outreach, which has essentially been nonexistent up to now. Tate says that WomenHeart has never reached out to health bloggers, but plans to start once the new site is up and running. Other plans have the organization using new fundraising strategies online, including work with the fundraising site NetworkForGood.com.
To boost its brand and messaging, WomenHeart hired Sea Change Strategies, a research and strategy firm that works specifically for nonprofits. Mark Rovner, president of Sea Change, says his team is working to present the organization with a communications model it can go forward with. The online component, he says, will be particularly important as women with heart disease will often turn on their computers first to find information about their situation.
"It's so much more than just having a Web site, obviously," Rovner says. "It's becoming equally important to be able to do online outreach to existing communities and existing networks of women and medical professionals who would be interested."
The organization is also one of the co-founders and key supporters of the national Heart Truth campaign, an effort led by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). WomenHeart has worked with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, the agency for NHLBI, on that initiative.
Tate adds that bringing members to events for the campaign has been a great way to spread word that heart disease can happen to anyone.
"People often think this is something that happens to other people, that it happens to people without healthcare, when, in fact, it's a very pervasive disease," she says.
As WomenHeart begins its fresh communications approach, the nonprofit will also be strengthening and expanding the services it provides. Tate says that in addition to bolstering its online communities, they will push to increase the number of local groups on the ground, from 50 to several hundred.
Rovner, for one, agrees with Tate's assessment of growth potential. He notes that many more women are impacted each year by heart disease than even breast cancer, and the latter issue receives far more attention. What's more, WomenHeart is the only organization that specifically deals with heart disease for women, and Rovner believes the foundation has been laid for a larger, more powerful advocacy organization.
AT A GLANCE
CEO: Lisa Tate
COMMS Budget: Undisclosed
Headquarters: Washington, DC
Joanna Eisman, program assistant
Marketing Services Agencies:
SeaChange (branding and online strategy), First Degree (CRM), In-Box Marketing (online)