24-Hour Pro-Bono People

CreateAthon teams shops with non-profits

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Advertising and graphics agencies seeking to establish roots in pro-bono work but find house budgets (and calendars) better balanced with paying clients might consider CreateAthon, an annual 24-hour event in which agencies contribute their services to non-profits locally and beyond.

Founded by Riggs agency in 1997, the Columbia, S.C.-based CreateAthon has matched 40 shops with more than 800 non-profits nationwide in just under a decade. The market value of work produced is estimated at more than $7 million.

Here's how it works: Agencies interested in participating request an official agreement from CreateAthon.org. After registration, a kit arrives in the mail detailing how to promote and publicize a call for 501(c)3 submissions. A minimum of five nonprofits must be selected from total responses. Once September hits, after vendors and resources have been secured, the day-long lockdown begins.

"We came up with this crazy idea to have a marathon," said Teresa Coles, vice president of Riggs and co-founder of CreateAthon. "Like so many agencies, we were hit up often to do pro-bono work. We wanted to do that work, but had to balance requests. It became increasingly clear to us that we could do more for non-profits in less time."

But what exactly happens in that time? How can a small to mid-size agency render its services useful faster than it takes to hang a few outdoor billboards? Turns out, even the smallest tidbits of advice are valuable to an organization with little public voice.

"Because the premise is to help those in the most need, a lot of the projects are very basic," Ms. Coles explained. "It might be setting up an identity program, or template graphics [the non-profit] can repurpose and reuse. We also council them on how to establish consistency in a single voice in their work, just as we would with any other brand."

And the charity doesn't have to stop at your back door. Last year, agencies across the country teamed up with 15 non-profits in Louisiana to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.

Whether agencies choose to give back to their neighborhoods or reach beyond community borders, the camaraderie that results from 24 consecutive hours of teamwork and no sleep can work wonders for an agency's morale, said Ms. Coles.

This year's blitz is slated for the week of September 10-16. While you can start the clock whenever you like, CreateAthon organizers hope to align thinking caps between September 14-15.

"Most of the agencies let their clients know they're shutting down for the day," added Rodger Roeser, president of Eisen Management Group and national media relations chair for CreateAthon 2007.

The deadline for agency registration is May 18. Nonprofits can apply into August, with preference given to those organizations with little or no marketing budget.
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