Tips for Creating Cause Ambassadors
The ASPCA recently unveiled a new online network where supporters across the country can sign up as ambassadors for the organization, and register to organize and host events in their own communities.
Jo Sullivan, senior vice president of development and communications for the ASPCA, says ASPCAAmbassadors.org offers supporters ideas about everything from bake sales and dog washes, to workplace fundraisers, to tribute pages where family and friends can make donations to the ASPCA in lieu of birthday or wedding gifts or to memorialize lost pets — and then supporters take it from there, registering their events and setting personal fundraising goals. The site also enables users to upload e-mail addresses of friends to contact them about the events.
The program is kicking off with ASPCA-organized dog walks in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, in April in conjunction with Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month as a way to show people what can be done via the site. The ASPCA also is promoting the program within the "donate" section of its Web site, as well as on community sites like MySpace, Facebook and MeetUp.
Sullivan says the program is aimed at donors and other supporters who want to spread the word on behalf of the ASPCA. On average, she says, the organization gets 400 phone calls every month from people wanting to raise funds for the ASPCA.
"Up until now we haven't really been able to support them very much, with the exception of saying 'thank you,'" Sullivan says. "Now we feel that we're responding to the consumer ask or the pet-loving ask out there.
"We had no way of really telling a great story of these ambassadors on the ground, and now we'll be able to," she adds. "They can come back and upload pictures of their event; we're going to share their stories on our community sites including Facebook and MySpace, as well as our ASPCA online community. So really our goal here is to create a bigger family and give these people the opportunity to share the passion that they have about animals with their friends."
Sullivan says the landscape of the way consumers engage with charities has been changing for the past few years.
"You see it in the breast cancer walks and the MS walks and the bike-a-thons and the tools that have empowered people over the past four or five years to fundraise on organizations' behalf. [It] has just been pretty exciting to us," Sullivan says.
For the past few years, ASPCA has been focused on developing a robust monthly giving program, so the ambassador concept was put to the back burner for a bit. She says the organization came to terms with the fact that it wasn't going to be hosting events like walks and rides and runs around the country.
"We needed to do this with a twist," Sullivan says. "We needed to give this kind of a “house party, do your own fundraising thing, something different than the walks and traditional rides because we're counting on you, as the ambassador, to create your own event’ [feel] … so it's probably taken a year or so to figure out what that platform is. How to give them ideas, how to fundraise."
ASPCA ambassadors receive the organization’s member magazine so they're able to keep up with the things that their money has done, and they can opt-in for weekly e-news alerts. Sullivan adds that ambassadors also receive special ASPCA store discounts, because having “ambassador wear” is a big part of the success of such a program.
She adds that while the organization also will try to fundraise from ambassadors, it’s going to do so judiciously.
"Somebody that's willing to go out and do a fundraising event for us — you know, bake sale, Tupperware show, whatever they want to do — the next communication from us should not be a 'Oh and where's your renewal gift?'" she says. "So, certainly, fundraising will be a part of that, but it's just going to be one part of the follow-up stream. A big part is going to be to make sure that they stay happy, engaged and willing to be in their communities helping to spread the word about what we do."
Sullivan shared the following three tips for organizations interested in creating a program like ASPCAAmbassadors:
- Have the data collection in place. "The worst thing you can do is have somebody raise their hand to do something for you and then you have no data synch or no strong data collection that allows you to keep in touch with them or to even thank them," she says. "So make sure that your data processing is in place."
- Have some ideas for people to do. "If you're not going to be hosting walks in your community or around the country, sit down and think about what your charity does," she says. Come up with 10 things that a consumer can do to benefit your cause so that you give people ideas. "Give them some tools to work with that you're happy to have out there representing your name," Sullivan adds.
- Be flexible with your brand. Sullivan says the ASPCA had a group of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts who wanted to do a bike ride fundraiser for the organization. ASPCA doesn't have signage for motorcycles, so it had to just let them be creative. "They were enthusiastic about it," she says. "Instead of imposing a whole bunch of legal sanctions and logos with circle Rs, we said, ‘Good luck, have a great time.’
"I think as we're all figuring out, scratching our heads where the economy's going to go, that one of the most important things you can do is a very low-cost way to empower consumers, and this is it," Sullivan adds.