Digital Marketing for Social Justice
Think, for just a moment in your busy day, about being locked away from everything you love for the last 20 years: your family and friends, holiday gatherings, the welcoming rush of your pets as you return home from work, an endless blue sky yawning overhead.
That’s the life Jim Walker lived as a prisoner for 22 years, more than five of it incarcerated in solitary confinement.
Only one problem here—Jim Walker was innocent.
Our mission at Oliver Russell is “to improve the lives of all we touch through meaningful work and the power of social enterprise.” In Jim’s case, we’re able to pursue a small measure of social justice through the tools of our profession: storytelling, digital marketing, and online fundraising.
Jim was wrongfully convicted of murder in Arkansas way back in the 1960s. In a confluence of hard work and near legal miracles, justice eventually prevailed, and in 1985 he was released from prison.
You can learn more about Jim’s story here.
After being released from prison, Jim eventually wound his way back to his hometown of Boise, Idaho, where he runs a shoeshine stand in a downtown hotel, living with his elderly aunt. When she died this year, Jim found himself on the doorstep of being homeless.
Just like the pro bono lawyers who were instrumental to freeing Jim, we sprang into action to support the efforts of his shoeshine customers, of which I am one, who wanted to raise funds to help him find safe and secure housing.
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We started just as we would with any client: by developing a strategic marketing plan.
First, about Jim—he’s quiet and a pretty private guy. He’s never sent an email nor has he ever been on Facebook. Even though he knew he was in need, he didn’t want to make a big public fuss about the fundraising.
This narrowed our options. Usually, we’d fashion a PR and social media blitz to reach as many people as possible. Instead, we devised an under-the-radar digital strategy for peer-to-peer fundraising.
We quickly went to work and created a video intro for a storytelling website we created using Squarespace. We captured some beautiful images of Jim to accompany a written narrative. And we enabled the ability to provide a monetary gift to Jim integrating Stripe for online payments.
Jim’s customers then sent emails to friends and associates pointing them to the website. (We even went old-school direct mail and sent a few handwritten letters to Jim’s long-ago supporters when we didn’t have email addresses.)
We set a fundraising goal of $75,000, which we figured would cover Jim’s rent and basic necessities for 10 years. In about two months, we raised $25,000 for his fund, most of it from people who didn’t even know Jim, but found his case compelling.
We then received word from an anonymous donor, who was quietly watching fundraising progress from the sidelines, that they would provide a $25,000 matching grant to help us reach our goal.
We’ve still got a ways to go—we need to raise another $17,000, which when matched will bring us to our goal.
There’s no way to replace or compensate for the value of the years Jim lost, but we’re part of a group trying to make sure he can live the next 10 years with some dignity and respect.
It’s been a source of comfort for Jim—both to know that he’ll have options for housing and that people care about his life story.
And for us, it’s another opportunity to use our marketing skills and demonstrate our commitment as a social enterprise working to improve our world as a legal Benefit Corporation and a certified B Corporation. And that’s pretty gratifying.
If you’re interested in contributing and doubling your giving through a matching gift, you can help out here.
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