How to Promote Your Cause Like a Marketing Genius

Mana Ionescu is the president of the Chicago digital marketing agency Lightspan Digital. She explains how we can use digital storytelling and a few social media best practices to promote a HelpHOPELive campaign.

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“I’ve always been interested in how people get their information, and particularly how we interpret what we see and hear in the media. I studied the subject in grad school. My fascination with how we create and share stories led me to marketing. With the rise of online communication, digital storytelling took the lead as one of the most powerful marketing strategies.


Grow Your Network


Social sharing can be an effective way to market your cause. But first things first, you need to decide if you’re ready to share your Facebook page (and your cause) with some of the people you may not already have connected with on the platform. If you are comfortable with the crossover between your personal life and your cause, sync your Facebook account with your email address book and invite people you know to connect.

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Sync your Facebook account with your email address book to find new followers

The best way to grow a following is to first follow other people. A certain percentage of those will always follow you back. Over time, you can unfollow those who aren’t receptive.


Make a Plan and Don’t Believe the Hype


What you’re looking for is a strategy and a plan. Just posting on Facebook may not be your first and only solution for outreach. If you think narrowly like that, you’re limiting yourself and your possibilities and the odds are that you’re not going to get the most out of marketing.

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Do you have an engagement roadmap, or are you lost in the woods?

We get sucked into time-consuming discussions about vague concepts and buzzwords. “Engagement” is one of those. Recently, the term “content curation” is taking over. You have to dig deeper than that to get results from social sharing. There is no simple formula. There’s a lot of wasteful outreach out there, marketing that is not done with purpose.


Strengthen Your Strategy


Just posting on Facebook won’t get you extra support. You need to engage your donor base to share your messages with their friends. Use social media as a catalyst for your existing fans to get your messages out.

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What kind of posts do your followers respond to most?

Craft different stories around the call for donations, and play with the calls to action. For example, “Donate” is the most commonly used call to action. But A/B tests show that “Give” may actually be more effective language. You can also use terms like “Contribute” or “Participate” or “Join Me” to ask for donations. Vary your calls to action for best results.


Keep It Classy – Or Else


I’ve known a person who, for years, posted negative things about her employers to her personal Facebook account. One day in a meeting, a business owner shared that “negative Nellie” applied for a job with the company but she was passed over because of her history of negative posts.

Remember that you are under the microscope. Whether you like it or not, you are now a representative of your cause, even when you are “off the clock.” Do not post mean-spirited posts from your personal account. Keep it clean.


The Bottom Line: Creative Connection


Storytelling is about sharing experiences, and that’s how people come together: through shared experiences that elicit emotions. You have to communicate, communicate, communicate. Share your stories AND the stories of others who support you. Make it all about people. Figure out how to motivate your supporters to bring in more supporters, whether it’s through a creative contest or an emotional tug.

Digital marketing pushes you to be social. It’s a very people-focused space. That’s thrilling to me, because I love getting to know people and learning from others.”


Mana is the president of Lightspan Digital, a Chicago digital marketing agency. Connect with her on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

One Year Later: The Legacy and Impact of Zeldathon Hope

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It’s been one year since Zeldathon Hope raised more than $250,000 for our nonprofit through a 150-hour Legend of Zelda charity gaming marathon. We are still experiencing the far-reaching impact of that support. Instead of just hearing about the impact from us in general terms, we’d like you to hear about some of the individuals who were directly affected by Zeldathon Hope in 2016.

Donations to Zeldathon Hope aided these individuals in a time of extreme need. Names have been changed to preserve confidentiality.


Zeldathon Hope Helped a Family to Support Chronically-Ill Children


Twelve-year old Annie was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, a rare, chronic and progressive illness, with no identifiable cause. Her family learned that she would need a lung transplant to survive. Soon after, they found out that Annie’s twin sister, Erika, would also need to join the lung transplant waiting list.

The diagnoses were devastating for Annie’s family. With difficulty gaining and maintaining weight, Annie had to begin tube feeding to stay alive as she waited for a transplant. Less than one year after she was diagnosed, she became reliant on supplemental oxygen to breathe. Annie and her family had to endure regular inpatient hospital admissions, IV treatments, and consistent outpatient therapy to keep her alive.

The finances related to both Annie and Erika’s care soon became a crushing burden. Already coping with limited finances to support two children, the family had to cover out-of-pocket expenses including:

  • $1,500 monthly mortgage payments
  • $2,500 additional monthly expenses before added health care costs
  • $250 per month for medications just to keep Annie’s new lungs healthy post-transplant
  • Plus, the high cost of regular medical appointments, associated travel and temporary relocation expenses

Annie and Erika’s mother had to leave her job to care for her daughters; their father soon realized caring for his ill children would require him to miss work frequently, resulting in lost income that would further damage the family’s finances. How would this already struggling family cover the cost of care that would save their daughters’ lives?

That’s when Zeldathon Hope donations became a HelpHOPELive Emergency Grant, which covered vital but uninsured medical and related expenses for the family so that they could focus on caring for their precious twins. The support we received through the gaming marathon prevented this family falling into severe debt just to care for Annie and Erika.


Zeldathon Hope Kept Hope Alive for a Devoted Father


Christian was barely making ends meet for his family when he received a shocking diagnosis: end-stage kidney disease. To cope with his condition, Christian had to take 6 weeks off work, time he couldn’t afford as he strove to provide for his 3-year-old and 6-year-old children.

As he fought to stay alive long enough to receive a kidney transplant, Christian was approved for disability benefits that amounted to just half of his regular salary. He received a lifesaving transplant, but found himself crushed under the weight of out-of-pocket costs to keep his new kidney healthy, including:

  • $900 monthly rent payments
  • A monthly insurance premium over $180
  • Monthly non-medical but related expenses exceeding $2,000
  •  $80 per month in vital anti-rejection medications
  • Regular travel and co-pays for doctor visits

Zeldathon Hope donations made possible an emergency grant to help Christian offset uninsured costs. Without the generosity of the gaming community, Christian may not have been able to afford post-transplant medications that have kept his kidney viable and his health stable.

Christian’s goal today? To become healthy enough to return to work so he can personally provide for his family.


Zeldathon Hope Relieved the Burden for a Selfless Living Donor


Takesha’s close friend needed a lifesaving transplant. Takesha made the selfless decision to give the gift of life to her friend. While her living donation was successful and her friend was able to unlock a healthier life post-transplant, Takesha experienced unexpected health complications related to her donation.

Though Takesha’s medical expenses were covered by her friend’s medical insurance, she was forced to miss multiple days of work in order to attend follow-up appointments to manage her post-donation complications. She found herself trapped in dire financial circumstances as a result of her compassionate decision.

“She is a very caring and sweet person,” wrote Takesha’s medical provider about her household. “They are running out of money. She has had lost wages due to her gift of life.”

That’s when Zeldathon Hope donations covered the cost of Takesha’s rent payments, making it possible for her to attend vital medical appointments and take care of herself without worrying about how she would make ends meet. The success of Zeldathon Hope made it possible for Takesha’s selfless choice not to result in a massive financial crisis.


Zeldathon Hope Made Post-Transplant Care Possible for a “Desperate” Recipient


Maya was looking forward to her new life post-transplant when she was hit with shocking news: in order to discharge from the hospital, she would have to cover an extremely expensive new prescription for one month. This medication would be mandatory for Maya to take in addition to the pricey anti-rejection medications she would already be required to take for the rest of her life.

With a monthly income of $2,100, Maya would be responsible for the out-of-pocket cost of 15 different medications per month! Her financial commitment was skyrocketing:

  • Monthly insurance premium exceeding $250
  • Monthly non-medical expenses over $2,000

Maya described herself as “desperate” as she faced the uncertainties of life after transplant with limited financial support. That’s when Zeldathon Hope donations became an emergency grant to save Maya’s life, helping to cover Maya’s mortgage payments so she could discharge from the hospital and maintain her health post-transplant.

Without the assistance of Zeldathon Hope, Maya would not have been able to afford mandatory post-transplant care. Maya says she is “beyond grateful” for your life-giving assistance.


We are exceptionally grateful for Zeldathon Hope and for the efforts made in the year that followed to raise funds and awareness for HelpHOPELive.


The support we received continues to provide emergency assistance grants to patients and families for whom our fundraising program is not an option, AND to spread our mission to a larger population of individuals who may need our help

No one should have to forgo lifesaving medical care or fall into bankruptcy because of their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Without the love and support of the Zeldathon community, Annie, Christian, Takesha and Maya may not have been able to survive their medical crises. Your donation may have saved a life.

From all of us, thank you for your support. Please share this post with anyone who may enjoy reading about the impact of last year’s unforgettable Zeldathon Hope charity experience.

If you would like to share your story as a Zeldathon Hope donor or participant, or tell us a little bit about why you chose to support Zeldathon Hope, please leave us a comment. We would love to hear from you.

To all of our friends at Zeldathon: we wish you great success as you kick off Day 1 of this year’s winter marathon Zeldathon Cures to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

How To Ensure That Your Next Donation Goes To A Trustworthy Charity

With the end of the year near, we are all thinking of ways to use our time and money to support meaningful charitable causes. No matter which philanthropic cause moves you to give, you want to feel completely confident that your donation will make an impact and benefit an organization that is legitimate, accountable and worthy.

How can you ensure that your next donation goes to a trustworthy nonprofit? We engaged Sandra Miniutti, the VP of marketing for the independent charity watchdog organization Charity Navigator, to get some answers.


Tell us about Charity Navigator.


cn_logo_main250x83We’ve developed an objective methodology that enables us to rate all different types of charities. Our system is designed so that an individual analyst’s subjective opinion can’t influence a charity’s rating with us. Our system is designed so that a charity cannot opt out of being rated by Charity Navigator. We can provide a richer analysis if a charity is willing to participate in the evaluation process.

You can use our advanced search to discover more about a particular nonprofit. We also offer tips for donors so they can make the right donation decision.

 


What’s the best way to use Charity Navigator to make a better giving decision?


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  1. Confirm that the organization is a bona fide charity, or a 501(c)(3) public charity. If an organization has this designation, your gift to the charity is eligible for a tax deduction.
  2. Review the Charity Navigator rating for that charity. We rate charities on a 0- to 4-star scale with 4 stars being the highest rating.
  3. Support charities with 3 or 4 stars. If you find a charity you like with a 2-star rating, call to learn more about what’s going on with the organization and what its plans are to improve.
  4. Do not support 1-star or 0-star charities. Look for another charity that does similar work with a higher Charity Navigator rating.
  5. If the charity is on the Donor Advisory list, take the time to read about why we’ve placed it on that list. Consider pausing your donations to the organization until it resolves the issues at hand.
  6. If a charity is public but has not yet been rated by Charity Navigator, follow the steps we provide to conduct your own review of the charity before you donate.

What should donors know about HelpHOPELive?


Donors to HelpHOPELive should feel confident that they are supporting an efficient and ethical charity. HelpHOPELive has earned 13 consecutive 4-star ratings from Charity Navigator, and is nationally ranked in the Top 1 % of all charities evaluated. View the ratings here.

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What does Charity Navigator consider to help inform donors?


cn3-0-logoOur rating system examines two broad areas of a charity’s performance: Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency. Our ratings show givers how efficiently we believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time, and its level of commitment to good governance, best practices and openness with information. In the not-too-distant future, we also plan to rate charities’ reporting of their Charity Navigator results.


Why is it important to find out more about a nonprofit before you donate?


While the number of charities has grown to over 1 million, the level of funding flowing into the nonprofit sector hasn’t grown at a comparable rate.

As such, it is every donor’s responsibility to ensure that their dollars are going to efficient, effective and ethical charities. We can’t afford to have precious resources wasted on ineffective or fraudulent organizations if we want to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.


What are some of the warning sings that a nonprofit may not be a good choice to receive a donation?


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There are several red flags that include, but are not limited to:

Organizations that spend very little on their charitable mission. The 8,000 charities that we rate tend to be larger, established charities. The vast majority spend at least 75% of their budget on their programs and services (HelpHOPELive spends more than 88% on programs and services). That percentage may run legitimately lower for a new or small charity or one that is intentionally investing in its infrastructure. But if the percentage is significantly lower, we would encourage a donor to ask questions or look elsewhere before making a contribution. Our rating system gives zero points for that metric to charities that spend less than 50% of their budget on their mission.

Organizations that do not have a diverse board of directors providing oversight. In our rating system, we look for each charity to maintain at least five independent, voting board members. Avoid charities where, for example, the CEO is reporting solely to family members. That can open the door to unethical behavior.

Organizations that use high pressure techniques to solicit donations. Well-run charities are willing and eager to share information about their work and they will not try to pressure you to give on the spot as you are learning about their mission.


How can we get started right now searching for worthwhile causes to support?


Go to charitynavigator.org and look for the Charity Search box. Type in the name of the charity, or search by keyword or location.

Share this post with family members and friends who want to make a positive difference this holiday season or throughout the year

What the Holiday Season Means to Me After a Spinal Cord Injury

In 2009, Kirk Williams was a motivated Colorado sociology graduate who filled his downtime with outdoor adventures and sports. In November of that year, a “complete freak accident, like trip-over-your-shoelaces kind of crash” changed his life: Kirk sustained a C5 spinal cord injury as he flew over the handlebars of his mountain bike. The injury left him paralyzed with a limited amount of feeling in his legs and limited use of his fingers.

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Kirk didn’t want his injury to put the brakes on his full and active lifestyle

As soon as he was able, Kirk began to immerse himself once again in outdoor adventures and sports. “My injury did influence my hobbies but I haven’t stopped doing what I love,” he explained. “I still do photography, camp, mountain bike [and] new hobbies like wheelchair rugby, scuba diving and hand cycling. I love travel and I was not reluctant at all to travel after my injury.”

Photo by SCI Recovery Project via Facebook.

Rehabilitation helped Kirk to reclaim his adventurous lifestyle, little by little. Source

Kirk is the founder, director and pilot/camera operator of the UAV-powered video production agency Birds Eye Optics. “It’s wild to think that while most people may think that since I’m in a wheelchair, my perspective is limited,” observed Kirk. “Actually, with my career, I see further than ever before.”

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“With my career, I see further than ever before.”

He credits fundraising and community support as essential parts of his journey. “My community of family and friends has been one of the most significant parts of me getting where I am today,” said Kirk. “Without the help of friends, family and HelpHOPELive, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the amazing equipment and lifestyle that I love to live. With my incredible support system, I’ve surpassed even my wildest dreams of what is possible.

I see each [injury] anniversary as a day to look back and see just how far I’ve progressed. I remind myself that anything is possible. I’ve taken the cards I’ve been dealt to not only survive but thrive in what first seemed nearly impossible circumstances.”

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On each injury anniversary, “I remind myself that anything is possible.”

Asked about the end of the year approaching, Kirk captured a sentiment shared by many of our clients, whether they are living with an injury or waiting for a transplant: the holidays are a time for hope, family and looking to the future. “The holidays are always a wonderful time of year,” explained Kirk. “I can catch up with friends and family and we can enjoy each other’s company. As crazy as they are, it’s always rewarding to have my entire family together in one place.”

The hustle and bustle of the season doesn’t appeal to Kirk, who said, “my favorite part of the holidays is being able to relax with the ones you love. It’s not about the busy times for me…it’s the downtime that I cherish the most. And the food!”

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What do the holidays mean to Kirk? Hope, family and looking to the future.

I usually make a New Year’s resolution,” said Kirk. “It’s a good chance for me to attack my goals with a refreshed set of eyes.”

His advice for others entering the holiday season and looking ahead to the new year? “Life is short, so why not try to experience it to the fullest? Get out there and try everything you can. You can be as happy or as upset about your injury and your life as you choose to be. It’s entirely up to you.

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Kirk says happiness after a spinal cord injury “is entirely up to you.”

What does hope mean to Kirk? “Hope means having my eyes set on what lays ahead, and knowing there is always a possibility for positivity given the right mindset.”

We know fundraising can make a significant impact on an individual’s life through the power of community, both financially and emotionally. As you continue to trust our nonprofit for a lifetime of medical fundraising support, we hope this holiday season brings you memorable times with friends and family and plenty of opportunities to look ahead, with hope.

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From our family to yours! Photo by Kirk.


Kirk Williams continues to fundraise with HelpHOPELive for the lifetime out-of-pocket medical and related expenses associated with his injury.

Bella Da Dawg is Kirk’s four-legged companion. She “spends most of her days dreaming of tennis balls” and “screwing up sound from her habitual snoring and striking good looks.”

Meet My Second Family: HelpHOPELive

Liam Murray began volunteering with HelpHOPELive two years ago and has been a member of our board of directors for the past year.  He also serves on our Development Committee. We sat down with Liam to talk about what charitable giving means to him and his family.

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Liam and his family enjoy the Radnor Hunt Races, a Kolff Society event


Why do you donate to HelpHOPELive? 


I donate because I love the mission. I love that the organization serves a very practical purpose at a point in a person’s life when they are most vulnerable. When someone is diagnosed with a life-changing illness or suffers a sudden catastrophic injury, the last thing they should have to worry about is who is going to pay for this.

I personally know three people who could have benefited from HelpHOPELive, but neither I nor they were aware it existed at the time. This organization is absolutely needed in communities around the country and making people aware of its existence is a personal mission of mine.

This is why I donate specifically to the unrestricted (general operating) fund and volunteer with the development committee to position more people to support HelpHOPELive to help us expand our reach even further.


What does charitable giving mean to you and your family (not just financially)?


Being able to donate means we are very lucky as a family. Life can change in an instant. Today I have the ability to give a little bit of time and money; tomorrow I may rely on others to donate that time and money to me or my family. We give while we can because you never know when you’ll be on the other end.

There is also something about being part of the organization to which you are giving which has deep meaning to me. I absolutely love the people at HelpHOPELive. They have welcomed me as if I were a member of the family, and that means a lot. My ideas, even the terrible ones, are considered and I’m asked my opinion all the time.


What do you hope to share with your children about charitable giving?


I hope to lead by example. I hope they understand how lucky they are to be in the position to give, and that it is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is also not something you do and forget about. I hope they see for themselves that it needs to be something that becomes part of your life so long as you are able.


Do you have any advice for first-time donors?


Every dollar you give, you get two back. Not sure why it works like that, but it does.


What if I don’t have a lot of money to give away? Can I still make an impact?


I might just suggest that there is power in community. When the HelpHOPELive Fundraising and Patient Services Team works on a new campaign, they don’t expect a single donor to give thousands of dollars, they know it takes a lot of small donations to reach their fundraising goals. Donate what you can, whether that is time or money and you will be surprised how far it can go. At least I have been!

The team at HelpHOPELive, across all departments, has a magical ability to take modest amounts of money and accomplish incredible things. I wouldn’t donate unless I had profound respect for the team putting my money to work for a good cause.

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Liam with his wife, Ashley, and his daughter, Joee


Can you open your heart this year to help us provide meaningful fundraising assistance to thousands of families? Donate now at helphopelive.org.

Caring for Caregivers: Unsung Heroes of Health Care

We are proud to assist family caregivers during National Family Caregivers Month and throughout the year by helping individuals facing a medical crisis fundraise for their out-of-pocket costs, including caregiving expenses. This post from our friends at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance highlights how caregivers can care for themselves, too.


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November marked National Family Caregivers Month, a time to celebrate the silent givers behind those who need care. It is a month to show support for the tireless work caregivers put in for their loved ones. This year, President Obama released a presidential proclamation stating, “During National Family Caregivers Month, we reaffirm our support for those who give of themselves to be there for their family, friends, and neighbors in challenging times…” Caregivers are often the unsung heroes of home health care, so during the month of November and all year round, we raise awareness for these caring individuals and the issues and hardships they face.. It is a time to celebrate the selfless work caregivers do and provide our support.

Twenty-three percent of family caregivers who have been caring for their loved ones for five or more years report that their current health is fair or poor. More than 65 million people, or about 29% of the United States population, provide care for someone who is aging, chronically ill or living with a disability. They are spending an average of 20 hours every single week caring for their loved one. There is little wiggle room for “sick time,” vacations, or paid time off. Caregivers are often bound to a schedule that they must adhere to for the sake of somebody else’s health.

This information has inspired the Caregiver Action Network 2016 National Family Caregivers Month slogan, “Take care to give care.” It signifies that before you can take care of someone else, you must first take care of yourself. To better care for yourself as a caregiver, you can follow some of the tips provided by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance:


Do what you love.


Don’t neglect your own personal life to care for somebody else. Maintain relationships with friends and family. Set time aside to do activities that you enjoy! Even if you must schedule time on your calendar, it’s important to take time for yourself. It’s particularly helpful to take time doing activities that you like and ones that help you relax! Everyone needs a mental and physical break now and then.


Be heard.


Cameron Von St. James, caregiver to his wife, Heather, who is a 10-year mesothelioma survivor (click here to learn more about mesothelioma), offers these insights: if you know a caregiver, offer him or her your ear – someone to talk to. Caregiving can be stressful, so having someone to talk to helps. It helps caregivers to feel socially connected and reminds the caregiver that there are people who care about them.


Know your limits. 


Always remember that there are limits to what you can do as a caregiver. Set realistic limits for yourself and communicate those to your support system. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those around you for help and support.


Focus on your health and well-being. 


Get plenty of sleep, maintain a well-balanced diet and be sure to get exercise. Your health is crucial. It won’t be possible to care for your loved one to the best of your ability if your health and well-being are suffering. Be sure to visit your doctor regularly for checkups, and schedule an appointment if you are sick.


This guest post was provided by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to support caregivers across the country. Want additional information on what it means to be a caregiver? Check out our archived Blog posts.