How our innovative creative helped Knock Out Poverty with United Way of Central Ohio

By Hailey Stangebye

 

You’ve probably heard of United Way of Central Ohio.

But are you familiar with the scope and magnitude of their poverty-fighting efforts across central Ohio? Their Community Impact Fund supports more than 80 local nonprofits, each of which fights to end poverty by tackling a unique set of challenges. That’s important because poverty in this city is a beast with many heads, and it’ll require a collaborative approach to achieve lasting change.

We need a unified front, or, dare I say, a United Way.

United Way loosely categorizes their work in four pillars: basic needs, good jobs, strong neighborhoods and student success. Within each pillar, funding from United of Central Ohio creates a profound impact on the city we love (think: more than 1.5 million meals, thousands of students supported by programs, neighborhood revitalization and more).

To achieve these results, United Way typically relies on a corporate funding model they developed more than a hundred years ago:

“What made this really unique when it entered the marketplace a hundred years ago was that United Way introduced payroll deduction,” Lisa Courtice, president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, says. “When you give through your payroll, you can give in a way that many of us normally wouldn’t be able to give. You might not be able to write a check for $500. But, you could give that amount if you spread it out over your 12 months of pay. That was really unique at the time. United Way really had a stronghold on philanthropy in our country.”

But the advent of the Internet, social media and a more rapidly-changing media environment has prompted United Way to innovate. Today, there are countless ways to give, which means United Way of Central Ohio faces a different kind of competition for philanthropic monies. Like many United Ways around the globe, they realized that, in order to continue their charitable work, they needed to expand their reach beyond the corporate world.

That’s why, in March of 2018, United Way of Central Ohio launched a completely different kind of campaign called “Knock Out Poverty.” It started with a simple idea: Why don’t we use the excitement of March Madness to launch a philanthropic bracket challenge? That thought prompted an exploratory crowd-funding campaign that proved remarkably successful in its foundational year.

“…it excites me because it’s the one thing that we have right now that’s a great opportunity to engage the broader community outside of workplace campaigns. It’s capacity-building, and it’s an exciting opportunity for our funded partners to be able to fundraise and feel like they’re a part of something bigger.”

“I get excited about Knock Out Poverty, one, because I’ve been a part of this project since it was just an idea. So it feels like it’s my baby. I have some ownership over it,” says Garth Weithman, senior director of public policy at United Way of Central Ohio. “But it excites me because it’s the one thing that we have right now that’s a great opportunity to engage the broader community outside of workplace campaigns. It’s capacity-building, and it’s an exciting opportunity for our funded partners to be able to fundraise and feel like they’re a part of something bigger.”

Here’s how it works: Local nonprofits compete against one another in a friendly bracket challenge to raise as much money as possible for one week. After that first week, the top-performing nonprofits advance to the second and final week of the challenge. The winning nonprofits receive thousands of dollars in prizes.

In 2018, Knock Out Poverty raised $264,244. That number is impactful in and of itself, but it’s even more meaningful given that every penny donated to participating nonprofits was designated as discretionary and unrestricted.

“The hardest monies for nonprofits to raise are unrestricted dollars,” Courtice says. “They need that money to run their buildings, to pay for their operations, to pay salaries, to pay for all of those things that typical funders aren’t as excited about giving as they are about, maybe, direct services that help people. But you have to have the right staff and resources to run the organization.”

To alleviate that need, United Way of Central Ohio built on their momentum from the first year and launched Knock Out Poverty again for March 2019. This time around, Warhol & WALL ST. joined the team to help develop and expand Knock Out Poverty.

 

Using creativity to Knock Out Poverty

At Warhol & WALL ST., we pride ourselves on finding creative solutions for complex problems. The first step in nurturing this nascent crowd-funding campaign was to build awareness. To do so, we built a content strategy that includes a new logo, experiential events, a diverse array of social media toolkits customized for each bracket and creative collateral.

The toolkits and creative media needed to be accessible to the growing number of nonprofits that United Way recruited to participate.

“Plus, the prize pool also increased pretty significantly. We still have Columbia Gas of Ohio as our headlining sponsor, but this year we gave away over $200,000 worth of prize money, which is really exciting.”

“This year, we expanded from just two brackets to now having four. We’ve grown significantly in the amount of partners who are participating,” says Elissa Francis, senior relationship manager at United Way of Central Ohio. “Plus, the prize pool also increased pretty significantly. We still have Columbia Gas of Ohio as our headlining sponsor, but this year we gave away over $200,000 worth of prize money, which is really exciting.”

To compliment this awareness strategy, we collaborated with 2Tall Animation to create a series of five different animated video spots for both televised and digital distribution. The beauty of these animated videos is that they can advocate for all participating nonprofits without providing an unfair advantage by featuring a specific nonprofit.

 

United Way’s Knock Out Poverty 2019 from Warhol & WALL ST. on Vimeo.

 

With every piece of collateral we produced for Knock Out Poverty, we meticulously curated the tone to be engaging, fun and energizing. We aimed to communicate the need in a way that spurs action, not apathy.

“It’s been crucial and so helpful this year to have outside people looking at this project and helping us think in different ways and promote it in different ways. That’s definitely a big change from last year.”

“The number one thing that everyone is just loving and commenting on is the animated video content that was created by your team and the people that you guys work with,” Weithman says. “It’s been crucial and so helpful this year to have outside people looking at this project and helping us think in different ways and promote it in different ways. That’s definitely a big change from last year.”

In addition to this sweeping awareness strategy, we also ideated a viral social strategy, which we’ve dubbed the #KOPChallenge. This challenge encouraged brand ambassadors for all of the participating nonprofits to donate money and then challenge their networks to donate with a social media call-to-action. We drew inspiration from the Ice Bucket Challenge and built on that structure with a March Madness twist.

“And, just in general, it’s great to see people engaging with United Way and our partners in a new and exciting way. Having a social media challenge like this, I think, is big for a nonprofit that’s so huge like United Way and struggles, generally, with our digital footprint. So that’s exciting.”

 

“I would say that another thing that has been really exciting is the #KOPChallenge. It’s yet to be determined as to whether or not it’s really driving donations,” Francis says. “But I think it’ll be great to be able to track that to see if it’s driving people to the new site. And, just in general, it’s great to see people engaging with United Way and our partners in a new and exciting way. Having a social media challenge like this, I think, is big for a nonprofit that’s so huge like United Way and struggles, generally, with our digital footprint. So that’s exciting.”

For the Warhol & WALL ST. team, Knock Out Poverty has been a wonderful opportunity to flex our creative muscles across a wide variety of mediums.

“I feel like we got to bring this campaign to life,” says Yohannan Terrell, CEO of Warhol & WALL ST. “When we took on the challenge of helping to create a greater impact with Knock Out Poverty, we had so much fun learning about its history and building on the March Madness theme. We really embraced that theme when we re-envisioned the brand, and we made it as fun as possible. The challenge was to take the foundation that United Way built and give it our creative treatment.”

“When we took on the challenge of helping to create a greater impact with Knock Out Poverty, we had so much fun learning about its history and building on the March Madness theme. We really embraced that theme when we re-envisioned the brand, and we made it as fun as possible. The challenge was to take the foundation that United Way built and give it our creative treatment.”

On Friday, March 15, the fundraiser came to a close with an event at the Reeb Avenue Center. For the final hour of giving, we went live on Facebook to solicit tens of thousands of dollars in last-minute donations. In the end, Knock Out Poverty raised an incredible $538,608. That’s a 103.83 percent increase compared to 2018!

We’re proud that our innovative creative helped make Knock Out Poverty a success. We always pursue projects that look good on the outside and feel just as good on the inside. This campaign is a perfect example of how marketing and branding can shape the world around us for good, in more ways than one.