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January 2013

Giving Back: A Greater Good

By Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief

ASAE set an ambitious new fundraising goal for its community-service effort in the weeks leading up to its 2012 Annual Meeting. Here's how members and attendees stepped up.

While planning a Dallas media tour for ASAE President & CEO John Graham, CAE, in July — right before ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Exposition came to town on Aug. 11-14 — Priscilla Hagstrom saw a hole in his schedule. Wanting to take full advantage of Graham's time in Dallas, Hagstrom, vice president of communications for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, decided to take Graham to the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), so he could see firsthand where ASAE's Community Connection — its community-service project for the Annual Meeting — would take place.

The plan was for ASAE's attendee volunteers to sort and box donated goods at the Food Bank during the meeting to benefit its Food 4 Kids backpack program, which provides 330 participating schools with enough nutritious, kid-friendly, self-serve food to fill a backpack and feed a child over the weekend during the school year. ASAE's community-service project would be particularly timely, as the Dallas school year was about to begin. At the time of Graham's visit, the Dallas CVB had committed to donating $15,000 to the Food 4 Kids program in lieu of an attendee-welcome amenity, and the ASAE Foundation was going to match that donation.

But that changed once Graham toured the North Texas Food Bank. “He fell in love with [the Food 4 Kids program],” Hagstrom said. “I think from that moment forward, it really bolstered ASAE's community-service program. By the time we left, he said, ‘Oh, we're not going to match it. We're going to increase it.’ And by the end of that day, he had committed to $50,000.”

Back at ASAE's headquarters in Washington, D.C., Sabrina Kidwai, ASAE's senior manager of public relations, swung into action. She sent out a press release announcing the new fundraising goal, which Graham said would “help 10,000 kids in the Dallas community stay healthy and focus on learning.”

To open the campaign to ASAE members who wouldn't be attending the Annual Meeting, Renee McKenney, CMP, CTA, the Dallas CVB's director of industry relations, worked with the NTFB to create a virtual food bank-shopping site (see Breakout below). The press release included a link to the site, where ASAE members could make a direct contribution. In addition, Kidwai said, “We tweeted about it, posted it on Facebook, and encouraged people to donate virtually. [We said:] ‘Even if you can't come to Dallas, you can still help out the Dallas community.’ Part of the message was that for $5, you could help a kid have four meals for over the weekend. I think that resonated with our community.”

Boots on the ground

Once the 6,000-plus ASAE Annual Meeting attendees arrived in Dallas, they received a letter in their hotel room from the Dallas CVB — in lieu of an in-room amenity — explaining the CVB's commitment to benefit the Food 4 Kids program. The letter let attendees know that they could “feel confident that [their] gift is being leveraged to reach many hungry kids across North Texas. Ninety-four cents out of every dollar donated goes directly to feeding families and children in need.”

During the Opening General Session, Graham kicked off the campaign by announcing — and encouraging everyone to meet — the larger goal he had set. He directed participants to the donation drop boxes that had been set up at the back of the room. “He said, ‘I want everyone in this room to give a dollar.…A dollar will feed three people,’” McKenney said. Kidwai added: “John asked for attendees to open their pockets.” At least 60 percent of the audience put in a cash donation as they walked out of the session. About $6,000 was collected from those boxes alone.

Two exhibiting companies, bXb Online and Geico, announced that they would contribute $5,000 each. Throughout the meeting, additional monies were raised through six Dallas Double Take Tours and ASAE's 5k Walk/Run and Fun.

Social-media efforts also helped move the needle. “There were a lot of tweets going out for people to give a dollar,” said Mandy Stahl, ASAE's community manager. “Plus, there were a lot of tweets around the 5k race, so there was indirect engagement around the community-service effort.”

While Stahl said that most of the conversations had to do with ASAE's education sessions, there was more tweeting going on around ASAE's 2012 community-service event than the previous year's, which benefited a dog shelter. “We do believe that social media and Twitter, in particular, spread the word and encouraged more giving and participation in the events that contributed to the cause,” she said. “There were 119 tweets that had the words ‘food bank’ in them and that didn't include the @NTFB references.”

On Saturday and Tuesday, ASAE volunteers sorted and packed food at the North Dallas Food Bank, which is limited in size to allow no more than 150 participants. They were joined by several members of the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Stars hockey team.

By the end of the meeting, ASAE attendees’ efforts benefited more than the 10,000 schoolchildren Graham had set as a goal in July. “At that closing ceremony, John was able to say, ‘I asked, you listened, and you responded,'” Sidwai said. ASAE presented a check to NTFB CEO Jan Pruitt in the amount of $61,442 to provide 12,288 weekend backpacks “of nutritious food to children who often worry about going hungry over the weekend,” Pruitt said. “We all know that hunger impedes a child's success in the classroom. There is no greater gift than offering hope, health, and a future to a young child. ASAE and its membership just did that.”

Breakout: Cart for a Cause

When ASAE sent out a press release on Aug. 4 announcing the increased fundraising goal for the North Texas Food Bank's (NTFB) Food 4 Kids program, it gave members who couldn't make it to Dallas a novel way to make an online contribution to the Annual Meeting's community-service project: a Virtual Food Drive using game-like animation.

The site was created by NTFB specifically for ASAE, allowing people to shop and personalize their donations. “You could actually go through and push your shopping cart and ‘purchase’ canned goods,” said the Dallas CVB's Renee McKenney, CMP, CTA. “Ultimately you were just making a donation of $5, $10, or whatever. But it was fun. It was an interactive little piece of flash.”

The virtual shopping site raised $3,265 — in addition to the large donations that were given directly. McKenney said: “It was cool that people went on and did this as a way to participate.” To view the site (which has been disabled for contributions), go to convn.org/virtual-aid.

For more on the North Texas Food Bank, visit ntfb.org.
To learn more about ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Exposition, visit asae12.org.

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