Broadening the Reach
Not many Americans understand the cruel reach of Crohn’s disease. Perhaps because it’s a disease that, while afflicting millions of people of all ages, makes folks undeniably squeamish. It involves blood and guts and diarrhea. It inflames your digestive and gastrointestinal tract and eats away at your colon.
But Roger F. Koman, former for-profit marketing maven and current vice president of new enterprises and new business development for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, wants to shatter those perceptions, raise awareness and funds, and afford patients, families and anyone who will listen a comfortable forum to speak freely about the disease.
Two years ago, Koman was given a mandate by CCFA’s board to find new revenue streams for foundation programs and, ultimately, launch initiatives that could be expanded on a national level and get the organization functioning like a successful business.
Motivated by the crucial need to raise the profile of CCFA in the minds of the public and prospective donors, and what he modestly calls his “little crusade to find a cure,” Koman spearheaded a series of diverse special-event fundraisers that run the gamut from local bowl-a-thons to skydiving jumps across America.
Koman is the first to admit that not every CCFA test event has gone off with a smash, likening the experience to hurling a hundred sticky balls at the ceiling and seeing which ones stick.
“Historically, we’ve always gone back to the inner CCFA base, which basically is people who have the disease or families of those who have the disease,” says the Belgium-born Koman, whose 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s more than six years ago. “With these events we’re bringing in a whole bunch of new people into our circle of friends, who are people that maybe didn’t hear about the disease but who love the concept of a particular event.”
Pedal to the metal
Based on participant turnout for just two events, 30 percent to 40 percent had no prior connection to Crohn’s, a stat that elicits a hearty and enthusiastic Koman laugh. “This is significant,” he says. “These are people who wanted to do good; they just decided to do good with us.”
One of Koman’s more successful efforts was a NASCAR racing pledge event, held Oct. 3, 2004, at the Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., where participants were required to raise or donate either $500 to ride or $1,500 to drive. To Koman’s surprise, many riders dismissed the idea of sitting shotgun and anted up the big bucks to motor an official NASCAR vehicle down Dover’s “Monster Mile.”
As part of the marketing plan to promote “Speed the Cure,” CCFA purchased display advertising space in NASCAR Scene magazine, a 600,000-plus circulation weekly published by Street & Smith’s Sports Group.
“Do you know how many readers wrote us from all over the place, saying, ‘I didn’t know about your organization. I have the disease,’” says Koman, a rare NASCAR-aware New Yorker. “Since you have so many people who are passionate about this sport, the reaction we get is, ‘I have no problem writing a check for $1,500 to participate.’”
What’s more, for added exposure the foundation manufactured a line of NASCAR twill jackets (which sold out), hats, T-shirts, mugs and key chains — available to shoppers online at www.CCFA.org. A special car will even race in the NASCAR Busch series, driven by CCFA’s 2004 Driver of the Year and former professional hockey player Dion Ciccarelli, whose brother Ray was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2003.
“Reaching somebody who fits the profile of the NASCAR world is going to be totally different than reaching somebody who’s a junior golfer,” Koman says, commenting on the nuances of targeting audiences unique to CCFA. “By going after various segments, we’re slowly but surely penetrating a wide segment of the marketplace.”
“Speed the Cure” managed to take in nearly $80,000 before the close of CCFA’s last fiscal year, which spans Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, and this year the organization has even expanded the pledge event to two locations: Nashville, Tenn., on July 24 and Dover, Del., again on Sept. 18.
The goal is to raise $200,000 through participant pledges and corporate sponsorships, which Koman is more aggressively soliciting this time around. Going forward, CCFA also will scale back on ancillary expenses, notably in NASCAR-branded merchandise offerings, as it’s found some items to be hot sellers, others not.
And while Koman maintains that “Speed the Cure” was worth every penny of investment, both as a fundraiser and awareness builder, the pledge event even inspired AutoWeek columnist and Crohn’s sufferer Kevin A. Wilson to write a series of articles about the event and the disease.
One donor flew in from Ohio just to race. That has Koman and the CCFA fundraising team considering whether to expand the race to six cities in 2006.
Out of the blue
If peeling down a ribbon of asphalt doesn’t appeal to donors, CCFA will let them jump out of a plane. On May 8, 2004, 31 people skydived in Farmingdale, N.J., as part of CCFA’s “Jumping Blue Beans: Jump Across America.” (Mr. Blue Beans is the event’s official mascot in the form of a stuffed, plush toy — available at www.CCFA.org.) When all was said and done, the small group of donor participants accounted for roughly $40,000, each having raised a minimum of $500 to take the plunge.
CCFA found itself instantly stuck to a winner, with a 70 percent net margin thanks in part to jumpers raising 20 percent to 30 percent more than the required amount. It especially surprised Koman to see participants raise $700, $800, even $900.
“An event like skydiving has a different dynamic, because it’s not only a physical event that requires a certain type of athletic prowess, but it’s an event that people can raise funds very easily for by asking friends and family for 20 bucks, 25 bucks,” Koman says.
Last year’s pledge event drew participants who have the disease, as well as family members who jumped for those who couldn’t. This year, CCFA will host “Jumping Blue Beans” in five locations: Farmingdale, N.J., Sebastian, Fla., Chicago, Las Vegas and Houston. According to Koman, about 60 people already had signed up at press time, 40 shy of CCFA’s goal of 100 jumpers and $100,000 in donations for all five events.
Both Koman and CCFA CEO Rodger Derose are optimistic — and for good reason.
Takin’ care of business
“We’ve really tried to model CCFA after the business world, where Roger is not only raising the adrenaline for our patients and supporting family members, but looking at broad-based program activity that will drive new business revenues to the organization,” Derose says. “When it comes to raising awareness, it’s much easier to cut through the clutter when you’re talking about high-adrenaline events such as NASCAR racing and jumping out of airplanes rather than the more traditional events, which CCFA still does.”
But these new blood-pumping special events aren’t the only aspect of CCFA’s enterprise that closely resemble the for-profit world. Log on to www.CCFA.org and you’ll find a fully stocked e-store, fit with books related to living with inflammatory bowel disease, CCFA-branded merchandise, including its “Got Guts” version of the Lance Armstrong bracelet (in blue), e-cards, credit card services and a “general store,” where visitors can shop with the likes of Amazon.com, Expedia.com and Hotels.com, and have a percentage of their purchases stream back to CCFA.
When asked about CCFA’s new e-commerce component, Derose affirms that it now recognizes patients, supporters and donors also as consumers, but underscores the Web site’s chief function of educating and supporting the Crohn’s community, “first and foremost.”
What’s more, Derose speaks optimistically about the revenue growth of CCFA, how in three years since the shift in philosophy it’s gone from a $20 million organization to a $40 million organization.
And he, as well as Koman, is hoping that the forward-thinking branding and marketing approach will result in broadening the reach to include the common American household.
At the time of this interview, Koman and Derose were busy announcing the next big special-event fundraiser to CCFA chapters: a junior golf tour.
As of now, four minors and two majors are slated for this year and through spring 2006 in St. Louis, San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta and New York, to name a few.
According to Koman, once the official announcement was made, CCFA home base received a very strong response from the chapters about participating and becoming a host city for the series.
“What the chapters love is that it’s a mix of awareness, fundraising and diverse outreach to the general public,” Koman says. “This is an exploding segment of the golf business. We’re talking double-digit growth. We expect to have a tremendous response once we open registration.”