In August 2009, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published the article “Catalytic Philanthropy,” describing the approach one entrepreneur took to reduce methamphetamine abuse in Montana. By researching the entry point into drug usage (teens who were unaware of the dangers of using meth), and implementing a strategic, well-resourced, targeted crusade to intervene at that level (a multi-million dollar, Hollywood produced, award-winning ad campaign which brutally depicts the downward spiral of a meth user), Thomas Siebel was able to make an almost immediate impact on reducing meth abuse in the state by more than 50%.
Since Siebel’s campaign, the words “catalytic” and “philanthropy” have become favored buzzwords of social entrepreneurs. Never ones to be late to a social innovation party, the (non-meth-addicted) Pro Bono Junkies at Taproot Foundation were eager to see how this new movement could be augmented with pro bono service, and set to work on a Catalytic Pro Bono Cause: Foster Care.
Having polished their logo, web presence and marketing collateral through three previous Service Grants with Taproot Foundation, Youth Law Center (YLC) was well-versed in pro bono service. As a public interest advocacy group whose mission is to end abuse and maltreatment of children in the nation’s foster care and justice systems and to ensure that these children are connected to families and communities, they were also also a major resource and expert in the foster care system. When YLC approached Taproot requesting help with messaging to “encourage the right families to foster,” with hopes of rebranding foster care systematically, and not simply for their own organization, Taproot Foundation jumped on the opportunity.
Following the four steps outlined in the August 2009 Stanford Social Innovation Review article for successful Catalytic Philanthropy, Taproot Foundation and YLC got to work.
1. Take Responsibility for Achieving Results
By following the basic guidelines of the Key Messages & Brand Strategy Service Grant (Taproot’s got about 250 of these projects under our belt already), we went into the project with a clear project scope and defined expectations on all sides of the pro bono consulting engagement – from the time commitment of YLC staff as well as the consultants, to a timeline for the execution of the project. We also began the project with confirmation that the end would be implemented not only by YLC but by a variety of government and nonprofit agencies working in the field.
2. Mobilize a Campaign for Change
In order to confirm that the new messages and brand position delivered by the Service Grant would resonate with the right audiences, Taproot Foundation’s pro bono consulting team worked carefully with YLC to ensure that all benefiting organizations had channels to provide their input and feedback on the team’s work. By making sure that the California Social Work Education Consortium, California Department of Social Services, County Welfare Directors, the Foster Parent Association and other agencies supporting the foster care system across the state were aware of the progress the Service Grant was making and able to discuss their thoughts and concerns directly with YLC, we were able to effectively manage the consulting team’s bandwidth. This effective management enabled the Key Messages & Brand Strategy Service Grant to be completed on time.
3. Use All Available Tools
The collaborative nature of the Service Grant program lends itself to an “all hands on deck” approach – the consultants drew upon their expertise in marketing, branding, design, management, and other key areas to build professional-quality messaging about foster care. On the flip side, YLC and the other participating agencies brought their perspectives from decades of experience working in the field to help identify a target audience and the attributes of that audience to ensure that the new branding was focused and pointed them in the right direction.
4. Create Actionable Knowledge
The pro bono consulting team created vignettes to personify the new brand attributes they discovered. “I am up for the challenge,” was personified through a brief story about a child who refused to eat anything his foster mother brought him. Through the foster mom’s detective work – checking in with his teacher to see if and what he ate at lunchtime- she was able to find a solution get the child to eat dinner with his foster family. The vignette demonstrated the key principle identified by the consulting team: ” Being a foster parent is definitely a challenge, but it’s so rewarding to see your child thrive.” The ideas were reinforced by this new tagline:
“I am someone’s hero. I am a foster parent. “
The professional-quality deliverables created by this Service Grant are already being adopted eagerly by the groups involved. This compelling message will enable foster care agencies to better demonstrate the value that volunteering as a foster family presents – and by putting these new ideas into the form of an anecdote, the consultants have made these attributes accessible, communicable and memorable for a variety of audiences.
Because this Key Messages & Brand Strategy project is geared towards reworking the perception of foster care as a whole rather than focusing on one particular agency, the resulting impact of the Service Grant will be catalytic in rebranding the issue area and enhancing public perception of the importance of foster parenting. By improving their ability to match foster youth with compassionate, flexible families that are up to the challenge of being someone’s hero, these agencies are positioned to provide foster children with the love and support they need to thrive.