Corral D

By ginaschmeling   /     Nov 04, 2014  /     Family, Nonprofits, Running  /     4 Comments

IMG_5276My designated start in the 2014 Chicago Marathon this October.

Corral placement (sounds equine, I know) is a predictive way to keep large races orderly. Faster in the front, middle in the middle, slower in the back. Thoughtful design embodied by 45,000 people.

The longer the race, the more likely things may not sustain. More miles mean less control. Course conditions and unplanned, uh, stuff play a part.

The day before the race, I got a cold. Many runners are vulnerable to getting sick the days before a race. Lucky for me, it was not too bad. Unlucky for me, it meant a slower run.

In the hours of not sleeping before my race day wake up, I mulled my plan. Physically and mentally. Since July, I had some big goals. Big fundraising for my charity (I did great!), a major Personal Record, and a doable Boston Qualifying time. It was within reach. All I had to do was run smart.

The story changed. Now some hard choices. I could ignore the symptoms, break the rules and take all sorts of nasty stuff on race day. Or I could dial into what was most important. While training, I’d envisioned Lake Michigan. Images of Downtown and Lincoln Park entered my mind as I ran long on NY’s West Side Highway.  I am a fourth generation Chicagoan. This was Home.

This day would be about the city. Not so much my time. With that, I finally fell asleep at 1AM.

Taping CHGO NATIVE to my back, I started with Corral D. Many miles, Kleenex later (let’s say Chris Christie would not have let me into NJ), I finished with the good people from Corrals F and G. Exactly where I needed to be to enjoy the race, take in the city, feel proud. My time goal was still in my heart, if not run by my feet. And a near miracle! My mom was at the finish line to see me get medaled.

I apply my running experience to my work. I adore planning, and admire staff who work in a team. As with ongoing fundraising campaigns and longer “marathon” plans, time and other factors shape outcome. I talk to so many runners about their dreams. And nonprofit leaders about their goals. It is easy to celebrate success. But how do we handle setbacks or midcourse changes?

Here’s what worked for me. I hope some of these are useful for you, too.

  • Be consistent, smartly aggressive, push for measurable goals. Data colors the story, but you are the author.
  • Keep your numbers in a system. Understand and analyze trends. Ask an expert to interpret what’s going on.
  • Agree on the real “real.” Is a number goal supreme? Or community engagement? Personal achievement?
  • Know the difference between giving up and redirecting. Olympian Frank Shorter calls this “reframing.”
  • Own your result. Share it.

Now get back out there for your next big goal.

Mine is the Brooklyn Marathon, this November 16th. Hope to see you in Prospect Park.

Gorgeous Chicago. This is my first neighborhood.

Gorgeous Chicago. This is my first neighborhood.





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CASE STUDY: Healthy Schools, Healthy Campaign

By ginaschmeling   /     Mar 17, 2014  /     Case Study, Family, Fundraising, Nonprofits, Social Media Series  /     0 Comment

Heading south on Franklin last fall, that Chicago vibe found me.

I was meeting Healthy Schools Campaign staff for the first time. A series of personal and professional connections brought us together, but I only knew HSC online until then. I admit to some trepidation and how-will-this-go rumination. When VP of Policy & Communications, Mark Bishop, offered coffee in a real mug with warmed milk, I knew I was with my people.


Healthy Schools Campaign focuses on wellness in public schools: healthy food, fitness activities, green classrooms. Based in Chicago, they have programs around the country. They have improved school lunches for more than 350K children in the Chicago Public Schools. Notably, HSC works with parents, nurses, chefs and health experts to reach kids and families across the country.

My mother is an HSC board member, and I was long aware of their work in Chicago. Lucky for me, the dynamic Falona Joy of SNP Strategies made a professional introduction, coordinating my work directly with HSC.

My first pro bono match.

The mood was open and collaborative. I had prepared a web and social media audit to begin the discussions. Together, we examined the current paths for individual giving (direct mail, online, events). President & CEO Rochelle Davis, VP of Strategy & Development Claire Marcy, Mark Bishop and I formed an online Development team.  Board member Jen Le joined us when possible (thanks Jen!). I mention this group by name because it was vital, and a bit unusual, that many smart and different thinkers committed to working together.

We agreed to strengthen HSC’s digital voices, smooth out the online donation process, work with #GivingTuesday and find harmony between offline and online asks. The purpose was to unroll new practices and improve year-end giving.

Many internal pieces were already in place. HSC had a donor list that had been solicited (mail, telemarketing, email) but not consistently. Social presence was growing nicely on Twitter, and they had a website with loads of information. We decided to work on these elements together, with intention.

HSC has a signature public benefit – Cooking Up Change – each November in Chicago.  The timing of this “healthy lunch contest” for teen chefs from public high schools fit well for year-end campaigning.

What worked

Improved Appeal response. I am thrilled we were able to rewrite the year-end letter, mail to a list with uncertain loyalty and see a response rate of 5.79% with an average gift of $98.94 — an increase from a previous (estimated) return of <2.0% with an average gift of $120.00  Optimistically, I think we can sustain this high return as the list grows. (See below, HSC by the Numbers.)

Responsive live-Tweeting. Read here for the Tweet deets! Also an aggregate “reach” of 385K with 1.6M impressions for a single #CookingUpChange event (Chicago).  We do not have hard numbers for 2012, but across eight cities in the reach was 900,000. We are looking at an easy and cheap analytics tool. Our focus is on that engagement step, knowing that growth will have more meaning if we can increase mentions and RTs.

Web and social revisions. The online donor path was tricky – too many steps, complicated.  We converted to Network for Good (go Mark!) very quickly. Here’s the current giving page. We are still playing with the new form. Strong on Twitter, HSC decided to post more on Facebook and Instagram.

Integrated year-end calendar. We devised a weekly, channel by channel schedule for email, direct mail, HSC’s blog and stories for Facebook and Twitter. Almost like a marathon training plan. HSC stuck to this editorial schedule like champs. The email open rate averaged 27% across the first four (12/2 – 12/23).  There was more variance in the final push which averaged 20% (12/27 -1/3).  The last email was a pure thank you, the others included an ask. Online giving (in $s) was 77% higher than 2012. And 11% of the available list made a donation with a respectable $61.28 average gift.  Whew!

The numbers of HSC’s lists (mail and email) are small, but they appear engaged as the response rates indicate.

An open work culture. HSC was amenable to sharing numbers and campaign stats. There was no data phobia, and we were in agreement that there was scant history for deep analysis. That said, we were game for new choices and for measuring progress going forward.

What started

Talk and planning for a new website. A redesign is underway. I know HSC will get smarter, easier and enjoy a friendly and responsive web presence. This will help engagement and all communications.

Coordinated online and offline fundraising. We scheduled and reworked a series of email asks, updates and acknowledgements around the mailing, which dropped before Thanksgiving. All messaging surfed the different channels with unified purpose. Our team saw Appeal work organically — not as separate digital and mail asks.

What “failed”

I use quotes here, because failure is part of adaptation (Beth Kanter, Failure Bows). We did not have much fertilizer, but perhaps these count.

#GivingTuesday. Many plans. We spoke with the lovely, helpful 92Y staff, but did not fully launch on our end. #GT was too close to Cooking Up Change to divert focus. We didn’t give #GivingTuesday the same priority as the real-life fundraising evening. I take this one for not pushing harder. Next year!

Lingering separation between online and offline. We have not fully linked all the dots. Improved website content and functionality, and regular donation asks will help this. The philosophy shift is in place. The rest will evolve.

Concluding. A Start.

The real story was putting connective tissue on HSC’s digital and analog individual giving efforts from November ’13 to January ’14. This demanded a radical new mindset. And HSC was very open, willing.

HSC had some drift between areas, and is working diligently to tie them together. Bringing direct response long-view to online immediacy sparked a new view on fundraising. HSC is already inviting and inclusive. With continued integration of their programs, they are on course to see their numbers, communities and following grow dramatically. And deservedly.

HSC by the Numbers

Budget: $1.8M (2012)

Funding: Largely Organizations (Foundations, Corporate Sponsors, some Individuals)

Twitter: 17.8K following

FB: 2,882 likes

EM list: 220

MM list: 380-500

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