A few months ago, Minneapolis businessman Aaron Holm stumbled across something called the 2014 RedEye Rebrand on a social media site.
It was fortuitous, because Holm also is the volunteer executive director of Wiggle Your Toes, a small nonprofit that helps people around the globe rebound from the loss of a limb. And Holm, who started the agency after losing his legs below the knee in a 2007 accident, was fretting about how to come up with precious funds to finance a website overhaul.
So he registered for the friendly competition sponsored by StoneArch, the marketing firm. And after an online vote of supporters, Wiggle was named the winner. Earlier this month, 20 marketing and website professionals at StoneArch, the health-and-medical marketing agency that sponsors the RedEye Rebrand, overhauled the Wiggle website, produced videos with limb-loss survivors who benefited from Wiggle, updated the logo and provided improved brochures, posters and other marketing material wiggleyourtoes.org.
“We had a really scattered website … and StoneArch helped us define our purpose and communicate it,” Holm said “People now can go on our website and find answers to their questions through words, video, photos and connect with people who have gone through a similar loss.”
The RedEye Rebrand is an example of a newer, grass-roots approach to corporate philanthropy among some marketing firms.
“We’ve always done pro bono work,” said Jessica Boden, president of 40-employee StoneArch. “But this allows us to really leverage our time and talent. It’s very creative. And it’s a reminder, particularly when the Wiggle board gave us a standing ovation, that the work we do can do a lot of good.”
The Bridge for Youth, the 2013 winner that provides counseling and short-term housing, estimated that StoneArch provided about $90,000 in technology-and-marketing services through the rebrand.
“Few nonprofits have the budget to tell their story digitally,” said Bridge executive Dan Pfarr. “The RedEye Rebrand gave the Bridge a box of shiny new tools to reach a wide audience. [Now] shelter visits are up, calls on our crisis line increased and funding is up. The RedEye Rebrand had a lot to do with that.”
There’s also a democratic twist to these events. Some finalists are nominated by clients, employees and friends of the firm and the winner is often chosen, at least partly, by an online popular vote.
Steve Wehrenberg, the former Campbell Mithun advertising CEO who is now at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communications, said most agencies long have done pro bono work, often directed by management.
In recent years he’s witnessed younger employees wanting to choose the charities.
“That’s probably a really important thing for the culture of a company, to rally the workers around a philanthropic cause,” Wehrenberg said. “You’re seeing a convergence of that trend, with agile marketing, doing it quicker and faster for their pro bono clients.”
At the Nerdery in Bloomington, volunteer crews are gearing up for their sixth annual Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge in April. The Nerdery has provided $4 million-plus in professional Web development services to 114 nonprofits since 2008.
Mark Hurlburt, Nerdery vice president of marketing, said he raised the idea in 2007 after witnessing some informal “hackathons” at other firms. “A bunch of nerds would lock themselves in a room in common cause and try to build something. This is lightly controlled anarchy with not a lot of structure and this goes on all around the country. We put a structure in place [www.overnightwebsitechallenge.com] and channel the effort in a direction that would do something that would have a lasting effect.”
Nerdery executive Mike Johnson helped with the website overhaul in 2009 of Students Today Leaders Forever (www.stlf.net), which arranges community-service trips for 4,000 students annually.
“Even today if we can’t figure something out, Mike is just an e-mail away to help us out,” said Brian Peterson, co-founder of Students Today.
Payroll is met at the Nerdery and the other firms by commercial clients who need brand marketing, websites, B2B applications and other software. But watching a nonprofit fulfill its mission also adds value.
“Knowing you are able to make a positive change like that is very satisfying,” Johnson said.