New Fundraising Strategy Post-Superstorm Sandy

A few of the hundreds of volunteers from central Maine gathering at the Maine Children’s Home to sort gifts for deserving children who wouldn’t otherwise get anything for Christmas.

A few of the hundreds of volunteers from central Maine gathering at the Maine Children’s Home to sort gifts for deserving children who wouldn’t otherwise get anything for Christmas.

The ravages of Superstorm Sandy severely affected the efforts of the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers Christmas program. Each year, the Waterville, Maine, organization’s Christmas Program distributes boxes of gifts and clothing to approximately 1,600 financially disadvantaged children throughout the state. It is the only program of its kind that provides new toys, books and games and new, warm clothing to boys and girls. In 2012, however, the donations for the Christmas Program were down significantly from previous years. So in November 2012, Nancy Marshall Communications (NMC) worked with the nonprofit to help with the marketing and PR efforts for its Christmas Program.

Superstorm Sandy’s impact directly affected the collection of donations. Two resources that the nonprofit had been relying on for large donations understandably shifted priorities to families in the New York and New Jersey areas.

NMC had 19 days to create a strategy and raise awareness about the Maine Children’s Home’s need for urgent donations.

One of the key objectives of the marketing and public relations initiatives was to increase monetary donations and donations of toys, books, games and clothing to the nonprofit’s Christmas Program.


The initiative also sought to raise awareness for nonprofit organizations throughout the state of Maine.

The project needed to stay within a focused budget. It included $15 for a Facebook promoted post (paid for with a free coupon from Facebook).

The remainder of this project was done as part of the Maine Children’s Home’s regular monthly fee of $2,100 for PR, marketing and Web services.

Immediate action was a key component in the success of surpassing required donations and supporting the Christmas Program. The effort included the following communications.

All of the outputs from a nonprofit’s communications add up to sustained fundraising, including social media channels, media coverage in newspapers, TV and radio, e-newsletters, influencers, such as the friends and family of fellow donors, and a donation button on the organization’s website.

All of the outputs from a nonprofit’s communications add up to sustained fundraising, including social media channels, media coverage in newspapers, TV and radio, e-newsletters, influencers, such as the friends and family of fellow donors, and a donation button on the organization’s website.

Social Media. Just one day after a strategic meeting with the nonprofit’s staff, a picture was taken of empty donation boxes and was posted to the Maine Children’s Home’s Facebook page.

NMC created the copy for the post that read: “URGENT: We need to fill these boxes for our Christmas Program.”

The post also included a link to a new page on the Maine Children’s Home’s website—which NMC built in less than 24 hours —to share the items the program needed immediately, ways people could donate, and the deadline for donations. This created a call to action to prompt individuals to act quickly.

NMC also strategically placed text on the photo that read: “We need help filling these boxes. Please share.”

The text-on-the-photo strategy was designed so it would accompany the photo when shared as well as keep the message short and consistent. NMC encouraged the nonprofit to promote the post by spending $15 on Facebook advertising.

As a result of the Facebook post, the picture was shared 155 times and liked by 53 people. The total reach of the post was 6,406 Facebook users. During the first week the post appeared, the nonprofit reached 14,909 people.

Public Relations. NMC worked quickly to design an aggressive schedule of TV, radio and newspaper interviews for Sharon Abrams, executive director of the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers and Cristen Sawyer, the Christmas Program director.

Fact sheets were developed to ensure clear messaging was used throughout each interview opportunity, with an emphasis on urgency of donations from generous contributors.

Media Relations.With an extensive list of media contacts, NMC worked quickly to reach local media to cover the story with a unique angle—the effects of a hurricane in the New York and New Jersey areas may potentially negatively impact the Christmas of 1,600 children throughout Maine.

The agency contacted several media outlets and coordinated the schedules of Abrams and Sawyer to align with media requests for interviews, feature stories and front page newspaper coverage, which lead directly to several thousands of dollars in donations.

The biggest challenge that presented itself throughout the duration of this project was not the willingness of the surrounding community to donate either financially or with new items, but the lack of urgency.

Because the more than 1,600 packages needed to be completed several weeks before Christmas, the items were needed well before the deadline so the staff and volunteers could pack, organize and deliver the boxes.

To overcome the challenge relating to the deadlines for donations, the PR campaign used words like “urgent” and “needs,” paired with a call to action, to prompt an immediate response.

It was also important to give thanks to contributors and frequently alert followers of the current progress on Facebook.

Asking loyal followers to share the image discussed above and the promoted post on Facebook allowed the Maine Children’s Home to spread the urgent message to significantly more individuals.


Numerous articles appeared online and in print, and stories were aired on local television and radio stations.

From Nov. 22, 2012 to Dec. 7, 2012 the media relations project generated more than 200 column inches, 85 minutes of radio airtime and 18 minutes of TV airtime.

Additionally, the donations that the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers’ Christmas Program recorded on the Tuesday following the media coverage totaled more than $24,000.

The original goal for donations for the Christmas Program was $20,000, but because of the media results, the organization exceeded its goal in just a four-day period.

Total donations to the Maine Children’s Home Christmas Program were equal to more than $54,000 in donations.

Despite the ability to plan ahead, there are always unforeseen events, such as a hurricane, that prove responsiveness and flexibility is crucial within the industry to best serve clients in the short-and long-term.

PR Tips to Sustain Charitable Donations

Nancy Marshall

Nancy Marshall

1. Use social media to share your message and help achieve your objectives virally. Use an image with text focusing on the urgent need and keep the message clear and consistent. Encourage followers to share your image and help spread the word. Link images to the URL specifically designated for needs. Specify needs, how to donate, deadlines and call to actions (that are clearly on designated Web page). Use Facebook advertising to boost number of people seeing the post. Continually update the Facebook page to thank donors and share progress of the donation efforts.

2. Use message maps for consistent messaging in PR efforts. Connect with agency contacts and design an aggressive and appropriately balanced schedule of TV, radio and newspaper interviews. Develop fact sheets or message map with consistent messaging to be used in each interview.

3. Find a unique angle reporters won’t want to pass up. Leverage existing contacts and pitch local media to cover the timely and compelling story with a unique angle (hurricane in the New York and New Jersey areas could potentially mean that disadvantaged children in Maine might not have a bright Christmas). Schedule media outlet interviews and coordinate requests to result in feature stories, front-page newspaper coverage. —N.M.

(This article is an excerpt from PR News’ Top 100 Case Studies in PR Guidebook-Vol. 6. The author is Nancy Marshall, “The PR Maven” and CEO of Nancy Marshall Communications. For a copy of the guidebook, please go to


Nancy Marshall,

This article originally appeared in the June 9, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

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