Reputation revamp boosts funding at health center

With the Howard Brown Health Center's reputation in tatters, the center needed to raise $500,000 in 50 days to keep operating.

Client: Howard Brown Health Center (Chicago, IL)
Agency: Public Communications Inc. (Chicago, IL)
Campaign: Lifeline Appeal
Duration: November 2010 – June 2011
Budget: about $60,000 ($10,000 fees and expenses; $50,000 pro bono)

Founded in 1974, Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) annually serves more than 36,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) adults and youths.

Funding from one of its grants was withdrawn last October after misappropriation was uncovered in late 2009. The center's reputation was in tatters, and it needed to raise $500,000 in 50 days to keep operating.

“Our reputation was the biggest impediment,” says HBHC president and CEO Jamal Edwards, who joined in June. “A clear and positive PR campaign was the only way we would have been able to raise the money.”

Public Communications Inc. (PCI) was hired to handle the crisis campaign.

Edwards insisted on transparency and full disclosure of details.

Media relations, social media outreach, and HBHC's website drove messages.

Third-party advocates and local businesses hosted fundraising events and helped generate support.

A November 4 press conference launched the campaign. Gay and mainstream media and LGBTQ bloggers were targeted throughout. Media updates were issued weekly during the 50 days and posted on Facebook and

After media coverage prompted the father of a former patient to donate $200,000 in early November, the team issued a challenge to match $100,000 by November 30. It yielded $90,000 in five days.

To increase HBHC's Facebook audience, part of the $200,000 gift was allocated to cover $25 donations for each new Facebook like. Announced December 1 on World AIDS Day, it generated 10,000 new likes in less than 72 hours.

“50 Stories in 50 Days,” short videos showcasing 50 people whom HBHC has helped, were posted on YouTube, Facebook, and the website.

Agency president Jill Allread says many local businesses and influencers offered to host fundraisers – about 40 were held during the 50 days – after seeing media coverage.

HBHC threw a December party to announce the 50-day campaign raised $658,474. The team continued raising money and pitching through June. Messaging focused on system changes and new initiatives.

Chaz Bono led a panel discussion on transgender healthcare needs at HBHC on May 6 and attended an HBHC party and auction that night.

More than $1.25 million was raised by June.

About 351 media stories have run to date. Edwards says positive coverage was a factor in GE awarding a $250,000 grant in June.

“Because of the campaign and the changes we made, all major federal grants continued,” he adds.

PCI is now AOR. The team is preparing several fall fundraisers and continues to promote HBHC's improvements and growth.

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