I’m chair of the board of a scholarship fund in my parents’ name. It’s called the William J. & Reverend Shirley M. Smith, Sr. Scholarship Fund. To celebrate 50 years of marriage and their life and legacy of serving and giving to the community, it provides a three-year $1000 renewable scholarship to second-year collegians with a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 – 2.5. The scholarship is intended to encourage, uplift, and develop those who are often overlooked because they aren’t considered to be the best or the brightest—but, we know better. We have all known people who started out as “least likely to succeed” but who finished well. My father and mother are two great examples of that kind of success.
My parents were high school dropouts. My father was a migrant worker who, through hard work and perseverance, built a small thriving business. My mother went back to school at age 36 to earn her high school diploma and later earned two Bachelors’ degrees–one in Marketing and the other in Theology. She was a pastor for 15 years. The scholarship helps students who need additional support to achieve their goals and dreams.
In creating the scholarship fund’s brand, I followed the steps that I usually follow to help a person or organization create a brand that produces anticipated outcomes. A mission that champions a worthy cause people can believe in. A message that is succinct, heart-warming, and engaging enough to inspire people to want to join the effort. A value-based proposition that is the gateway to someone else’s abundant life.
For the launch, we invited about 400 people to a church service called an Evening of Inspiration in honor of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. There wasn’t a cost. We accepted at-will donations. The response was phenomenal. We raised $16,000 in six weeks. Within six months, the kitty swelled to over $18,000. With a goal to raise $100,000 in five years, we decided to host our first major fundraiser seven months later. For our keynote speaker, I reached out to Byron Pitts, the Emmy award-winning 60 Minutes correspondent and author of Step Out on Nothing. Award-winning journalist Art Fennell, producer and host of Art Fennell Reports, committed shortly thereafter to act as master of ceremonies.
The team and I started with 17 weeks to plan the big event. Due to an unexpected schedule change, we lost nearly 5 weeks. As the lead visionary for this project—who lacked formal experience with event planning and fundraising—I suspected that trouble loomed nearby. I was right. I just didn’t know how much.
I had put together what I believed to be a tight branding strategic plan. I reached out to fundraising experts with decades of experience in fundraising. Their buy-in came easy. They gave me an abundance of advice, guidance, support, and resources. They even gave me permission to use their name to get appointments with key decision-makers at corporations. I felt better about the process. This excited me. I thought I was “in.” I miscalculated.
According to them, our branding strategy was impressive. In fact, one vice president of marketing told me that it was one of the best combinations of branding and marketing that she had seen in her 30-plus years in the business. They loved the story, were impressed with our short-term success, and couldn’t believe that Byron Pitts and Art Fennell agreed to come. Why would these two media heavy-hitters headline our event? We were novices at this. As the potential sponsors put it: The William J. & Rev. Shirley M. Smith, Sr. Scholarship Fund didn’t have a track record. No history. And besides, their funds were already committed to other better-known causes.
With little time left to secure corporate sponsors, I had to rethink the direction of the strategy. I asked myself, what’s missing? We had a solid brand. It had all the components: mission, message, and value. But the results from developing tier two—likeability, marketability, and credibility—weren’t alive, at least, not yet. How could our mission become likeable, marketable, and credible without a valid history? The people I was talking to who could make the decisions on corporate sponsorship didn’t know, and therefore couldn’t “like” my parents.
I needed inside influencers. I tapped into my professional network. There, I found it. I revised the plan by working on the tier three. I called people who knew and liked me. That decision was pivotal. They came on board. They introduced me to their friends and things started rolling fast. The brand started to breathe.
Although my parents’ construction company and a media sponsor came on board early, we didn’t get our first corporate sponsor until 30 days before the event. By the date of the event, we had secured six corporate sponsors M&T Bank, Walmart, Delmarva Power, WBOC-TV, Smith Masonry, Inc., and Computer Aid, Inc. (CAI), nine reception hosts who donated $500 or more, and sold over three hundred $50 tickets. Not bad for an organization still in its first year without a national platform.
©2011 All rights reserved. The Bridge to Your Brand Likeability, Marketability, Credibility available in paperback. You can read the first two chapters at www.srenee.com.