CreateAthon, a national nonprofit pro bono marketing marathon, “harnesses skills-based superpowers for social good.” Collegiate partnered locally with CreateAthon@VCU, a volunteer program that gives students the opportunity to use their creative talents to help fulfill the marketing needs of nonprofits in the Richmond community.
Students in the senior seminar co-taught by Allen Chamberlain, Head Librarian of the Upper School Library, and Jere Williams, Upper School art teacher, were matched with six local nonprofits that serve a wide range of populations in the community: Reach Out for Life, Partnership for Families, Miracles in Motion, Tech for Troops, Chesterfield Innovative Academy for Girls and Puppets Off Broad Street.
The students developed a strong relationship with their nonprofit client, spent time on site with the organization and its staff, researched the nonprofit’s market segment, employed design thinking to understand the needs of the nonprofit and developed a marketing strategy and produced deliverables. The deliverables ranged from print materials to web graphics to short films to logos and strategic plans.
“What is unique about CreateAthon is that students have the opportunity to engage in strategic work that has real-world application,” said Mr. Williams. “They are serving the nonprofits and learning about doing business in that market segment by providing the much-needed donor campaigns, branding designs and web graphics. The nonprofit companies are doing our students a great service as well by collaborating with them in the learning process.”
Professional mentors in the fields of print design, web design, illustration, copywriting, strategic planning and social media, spoke to the students during the semester. Dave Clemans, a branding and advertising expert, met with students in January. He walked them through several international award-winning campaigns that he created, sharing key insights, best-practice tips and potential pitfalls he learned along the way.
“The goal was to help prepare the students for their CreateAthon, where they would come up with marketing ideas to aid their chosen nonprofit brands,” he said.
During the CreateAthon, all participants (students, nonprofit directors, volunteer professional designers, copywriters and brand managers) gathered together for an intensive, strategic and creative session to generate ideas for the marketing campaign. Collegiate students in Mr. Williams’ Digital Media class joined in as well to assist in designing the deliverables.
The students worked all morning on their ideas with assistance from the experts on hand. After lunch, the groups fine-tuned their materials based on suggestions from their professional mentors.
“We discovered things we didn’t realize we would learn,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “When a fresh perspective comes in, there’s a whole new way to look at your nonprofit.”
The constructive input from the mentors really pushed the students to re-examine their work.
“We presented students with real-world questioning that led them to discovery and gave them direction,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “Without that in-depth questioning, they’re not really serving the nonprofits.”