Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Stand Out On One More Day Aimed at Volunteers

The NY Times featured a story about how a handful of nonprofits, with help from the White House, are working to rebrand occasions like Martin Luther King’s Birthday and Sept. 11 as national days of volunteering. As the article relates:

Add one more to the calendar: Mandela Day, July 18, when people around the world will be urged to perform 67 minutes of community service to honor the 67 years (and counting) that Nelson Mandela has fought for racial and social equality. The holiday is the brainchild of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and 46664, the advocate group that bears Mr. Mandela’s prisoner number.

But how to sell the public on yet another working holiday? An ad campaign.

Gotham, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is starting a campaign worth about $5 million, focused almost entirely in New York State, to introduce the holiday and break down the barriers that prevent people from volunteering.

“For 67 years Mandela has been fighting social injustice, and he’s even done it from a jail cell,” said Peter McGuinness, chairman of Gotham, which is based in New York. “We want to use his example to empower people to make a difference”

But Mr. Mandela’s face will cede the foreground to a more symbolic image for the ad campaign: hands. Everything about Mandela Day — including its icon and its television and Web ads — revolves around images of the hands of volunteers, meant to represent the impact an individual can make.

In a 30-second television spot that will begin showing on major networks on June 22, the hands of a volunteer in a soup kitchen fade into the hands of someone reading to a child, which fade into the hands of another person helping an elderly woman use a computer, and so on. Print ads will run in major newspapers and magazines, and outdoor ads will appear on bus shelters and phone kiosks.

Gotham has also produced a Web video in which actors like Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and Sharon Stone show their hands to the camera. Visitors to the Mandela Day Web site will also be able to splice themselves into the video and share it with friends. Gotham executives say they hope that the video will go viral, spreading the message globally.

That site will also help people find their 67-minute volunteer opportunities. Through a partnership with, users can search for work based on cause and ZIP code. The site will include a heat map showing which areas are in greatest need that will “cool off” as people commit volunteer time. Read more here.

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