Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho

Providing a nonprofit with a marketing gift that keeps on giving

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho (RMHC) knew it could help far more families by increasing awareness of its services across Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Like many nonprofits, most of RMHC’s budget goes into carrying out its mission. But when Regence BlueShield of Idaho offered a $100,000 Community Partner grant, RMHC saw the added resources as a potential game changer.

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The Challenge

One-hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money, but RMHC wasn’t sure how to stretch the amount across an audience in two time zones and states. Also, in addition to a lack of understanding about RMHC’s mission, much of the general public mistakenly believes Ronald McDonald House is a part of McDonalds (it isn’t) and receives direct support from the company (it doesn’t). All of which significantly hinders fundraising.

The Solution

We devised a plan to help RMHC build its long-term network and gave staff tools they could cost-efficiently use when they didn’t have a large grant. These tools included social media message planning and activation, implementing a YouTube donation channel, and perhaps most importantly, acquiring a Google AdWords grant. We also launched RMHC’s campaign just in advance of Idaho Gives, a special 24-hour, statewide online fundraising event—which certainly didn’t hurt matters.

The Results

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34 percent increase in organic reach of Facebook posts and 20 percent increase in Facebook likes.

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46,000 impressions generated by Google AdWords in one month drove 28 percent of unique website traffic.

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83 percent increase in donations on Idaho Gives over the prior year

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Meet the client

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Mindy Plumlee, Executive Director, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho, Inc.

Mindy has worked in her current role for the past 15+ years. She loves the mission of the charity and the ability to work with amazing volunteers, board members and staff, and get to know families and children at the House. This environment of caring and service is her motivation every day. When she’s not at the Ronald McDonald House, you’ll find her enjoying the Idaho outdoors, running, hiking or biking with her family.

  •  Who inspires you? I’ve had a lot of wonderful mentors, starting with my grandparents when I was very young. People who give of themselves to help others are very inspiring to me.
  • If you had to lose one of your five senses, which would you choose? Taste…maybe then I wouldn’t be such a fan of desserts.
  • What would you eat for your final meal? Pizza, beer, angel food cake and cherry pie.

mindy@rmhcidaho.org

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  • Most everyone has an idea of what Ronald McDonald is all about—the McDonald’s mascot chases the Hamburglar around, right?

    But a lot of people don’t know what the Ronald McDonald House nonprofit charity does, and that’s a shame, which is why Oliver Russell was brought in—to tame that shame and spread the word about all the good that happens within the walls of this fantastic place.

    The Opportunity for a Game Changer

    Ronald McDonald House Charities of Idaho (RMHC) knew it could help far more families if it could just increase new awareness and understanding for its services across its market area in Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Like many nonprofits, most of its budget goes into carrying out its mission. But when Regence BlueShield of Idaho tapped RMHC on its shoulder with a magic wand—a $100,000 Community Partner grant, Executive Director Mindy Plumlee saw the added resources as a potential game changer.

    “To an organization of our size in the nonprofit world, golden opportunities like this might only come along once, so you have to make the most of them,” she said. “It’s been exciting to reach out in directions we never imagined having the funds and ability to do." 

    The Grant is a Problem?

    Interestingly enough, we saw the first problem in our assignment as the incredibly generous gift from Regence BlueShield of Idaho. One-hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it’s challenging to make it a game changer while stretching it across an audience that reaches across two time zones and large swaths of two states. How could we truly turn it into a game changer rather than a one-shot deal?

    Then there were the awareness and perception issues. In addition to lack of understanding about its mission, there’s a misconception that Ronald McDonald House is a part of McDonalds (it isn’t) and receives direct support from the company (it doesn’t, though franchise owners often do). This combination hinders fundraising—if you don’t know the “why” of the cause, and you think it has financial support wired, well, then, “why” would you contribute?

    Teach Them How To Fish

    Funny that digital channels and Google AdWords can be equated to a biblical proverb. But that’s what we did—in order to make this a game changer, we devised a plan to help RMHC build its long-term network and give staff tools they could cost-efficiently use in the future when they didn’t have the benefit of a large grant.

    These tools included social media message planning and activation, implementing a YouTube donation channel, and perhaps most importantly, acquiring a Google AdWords grant.

    Many nonprofits completely overlook, or don’t fully understand, the power of Search Engine Marketing and how it can help their efforts. We helped RMHC apply for and secure a Google Ad Grant. This is the nonprofit version of AdWords, Google's online advertising tool. Recipients of these grants receive $10,000 per month in in-kind AdWords™ advertising they can use to promote their missions and initiatives on Google search result pages.

    Helping Families Stay Together

    Next up were the message and perception issues. Weighing the opportunities, we decided the best route was to focus on the mission message first, with the intent that it could create the space for broadened understanding that RMHC is wholly independent and responsible for all its funding needs.

    That basic mission message is this: When families experience a life-threatening disease or injury to a child that requires travel to another city for urgent medical care, the Ronald McDonald House provides a home-away-from-home that eases stress and financial burden by helping families to stay together.

    We decided early that our storytellers wouldn’t be professional actors or staff—and that it wouldn’t be “our” story, but theirs. This provided our best shot at delivering a genuinely powerful message by letting parents and grandparents tell their own compelling stories.

    We devised a multiple-channel integrated campaign, the type of which nonprofits typically can’t pursue because they either lack the understanding or funds to do so.


    We started with TV, as it provided the most cost-effective media buy to reach a largely rural audience and was the best way to tell a story based on emotion. This presented a cost and logistics issue—it would be expensive and time consuming for a crew to travel across the broad territory to represent the expansive geographic locations of families that are positively affected by RMHC.

    We solved this by conducting remote phone interviews and capturing three moving stories from parents and grandparents in audio files: Matt’s Story, Joy’s Story, and Amy’s Story. The power of these stories is that they are conveyed without visuals of the people involved. The voices are raw and filled with emotion. They unleash the power of one’s imagination to do the rest.

    We augmented TV with sponsorships on the local affiliate of National Public Radio and created a 3-touch email program to announce the campaign and unveil TV spots to key constituencies and supporters. This was supported by distribution across organic social media networks, including paid targeted ads on Facebook.

    The Campaign Delivers

    We launched the campaign just in advance of Idaho Gives, a special 24-hour, statewide online fundraising event. (Hey, as long as we’re using the fishing proverb as metaphor, well why not go fishing when the fish are biting?)

    During the month prior to Idaho Gives, the Google AdWords generated 46,000 impressions for RMHC and accounted for 28% of unique traffic to its website.

    For a similar period, the video stories of Joy, Amy, and Matt received hundreds of views on YouTube.

    Organic reach of Facebook posts increased 34% compared to pre-campaign Facebook posts.

    Average Facebook “likes” of campaign posts increased by 20% compared to average likes of pre-campaign posts. And “likes” of the RMHC Facebook page increased at an annualized rate of more than 100%.

    While the campaign was running in April, donations for the month increased 28% over the year prior. And when we exposed caring and generous people to the Ronald McDonald House story on Idaho Gives event, fundraising surged by 83% over the prior year.

    The Gift that Keeps on Giving

    Perhaps the best thing about this campaign is that the grant stimulus from Regence BlueShield of Idaho truly has changed the game for RMHC. Donations continue to rise, its mission message is exposed to its rapidly growing social network of supporters, and that Google AdWords grant is generating significant new visitors to the RMHC website every day.

    “Oliver Russell understood our needs from the very beginning. They knew the right approach for our organization would be to focus on our strengths and the power of families served by the Ronald McDonald House,” said Plumlee, adding, “We were never just a client to them. We were a partner, and they were all in and committed to helping us find ways to improve what we do and work to change the lives of families with ill children. They made success happen!”


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