Finding the Perfect Pro Bono Partner

There Are So Many Fish in the Sea

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Maureen Hall Maureen Hall
As the season of goodwill is upon us, I thought I'd use this opportunity to talk about giving back to the community. We've always believed in offering our talents to help others; it's in our nature and deeply ingrained in our values. It comes naturally to a group of talented people who constantly use their creative brainpower to connect the brands we steward with causes that make a difference. Increasingly, people are looking for brands that align with their values -- it's not enough today to just promote the benefits of products and services. Brands need to stand for something bigger. And that includes our agency brand.

Today you can find plenty of articles that explain why using a cause-marketing campaign to express a company's brand and mission is effective for raising awareness and creating brand loyalty. It's an exciting time to see commerce and causes come together. In Jonah Bloom's Oct. 8 column, he refers to the Ogilvy's Steve Hayden and his understanding of the power of brands that have big ideals. Steve has a simple, fill-in-the-blank exercise he's using to try to find that ideal: "Brand X believes the world would be a better place if [fill in the blank]." In the case of Ogilvy's client Dove, the blank would read "if women were allowed to feel good about themselves."

But defining our ideals, and finding the perfect charitable organization that aligns with our agency's values, has been � well -- like dating. We've dated many, but we've never found the one we were willing to marry. Over the years, we've looked for the right cause to champion, one that we could embrace. We've involved our employees in the search, asking them to submit suggestions for worthy causes that they would like to see our agency choose.

Inevitably, because our employees' interests are varied and the need for marketing help is so great, we had a hard time selecting just one. Throughout the year we would donate our time and efforts to many different organizations, sometimes just helping out with a brochure or event, raising awareness through PR and other times getting involved with strategic planning. We usually ended up feeling fragmented. While we did contribute, we did not create the meaningful impact we desired for any of them, or for ourselves.

We're not shy of commitment; we just needed an easier way to check out all the fish in the organizational sea before we started to build a long-lasting relationship. Thus started our first "Dating For A Cause" contest, which turns the traditional RFP process inside out and on its head. (Something that's long overdue.)

We hosted this event in Charlotte as a way to commemorate the first anniversary of our second location. It was a great way to announce to this city that we are ready to be part of a better future. We invited all area non-profits to fill out our online compatibility questionnaire, � la e-Harmony, for a chance to meet us and propose why their organization would be a good match with ours. We announced that we would be donating 200 agency hours to start the relationship.

After sending out email blasts and getting some local press, we had 50 groups register on our "Dating For A Cause" microsite. Based on their answers, we picked 25 finalists and invited them to our speed dating cocktail event at an uptown bar. Each organization went through a series of six-minute "dates" as they met with teams from the agency to answer more questions and go through a chemistry check.

At the end of the night, I found that it was hard to narrow my top picks down to five. Ah, so many causes, so little time. The next day our teams regrouped to rank their top selects and compare notes. We found ourselves passionately defending our favorites with good rationale. It was a tough decision, but we were determined to select just one. In the end, we voted. And the winner is??? To be announced next week.
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