Creating A Lifeline For LGBT Health Center
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Creating A Lifeline For LGBT Health Center

With community support faltering following a scandal over mismanaged funds, Howard Brown turned to Public Communications Inc. for help to save this vital service to the community.

Holmes Report


Faced with a financial crisis that would close the 36-year-old healthcare center by Christmas, Howard Brown Health Center, one of the nation’s oldest and largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) health services organizations, needed to raise $500,000 in 50 days. With community support faltering following a scandal over mismanaged funds by the previous administration, Howard Brown turned to Public Communications Inc. for help to save this vital service to the community.
PCI worked with Howard Brown’s new leadership team and in less than one week created the “Lifeline Appeal” campaign and developed an issues management strategy to help restore public confidence and raise necessary funds to save Howard Brown. Launched during a news conference on Nov. 4, the campaign integrated a sustained media program; grassroots community outreach; a Facebook campaign that to grew Howard Brown fans from 2,100 to more than 11,000; an online video series featuring 50 personal stories for 50 days during the appeal; and a restructuring of the board of directors.
On Dec. 23 -- Day 50 of the appeal – Howard Brown announced that the Lifeline Appeal created a real lifeline for Howard Brown by generating more than $650,000 and enabling the Center to remain open and continue critical services to LGBT communities.
The issues management and communication program had four primary objectives:
·      Restore public confidence in Howard Brown by publicly explaining the circumstances surrounding previous $3 million fund mismanagement and created the cash crisis.
·      Raise $500,000 in 50 days through a community-wide campaign to help ensure Howard Brown Health Center can continue services to the LGBT communities.
·      Increase Howard Brown’s Facebook page following and begin using Facebook as a fundraising tool.
·      Counsel Howard Brown’s board of directors on taking steps to ensure continued community support.
With less than a week to plan and launch the campaign, PCI quickly interviewed senior staff and board leadership to understand the complex issues that led to Howard Brown’s cash crisis. Research required reviewing past online and print media coverage of Howard Brown and assessing how the gay press had been increasingly critical of the Center. Media believed Howard Brown’s leadership, including the board, was not being transparent. The research enabled the team to create a strategy and message platform that would be the foundation of the campaign.   
Under a tight timeline, PCI worked with Howard Brown’s executive staff to plan and implement the following strategies:
·      Fully disclose all details related to the financial crisis and accept responsibility for the former leadership’s past mismanagement of grant funds. This included the fact that the board of directors initiated its own investigation in the fall of 2009 that eventually led to the resignation of the former CEO and CFO.
·      Detail Howard Brown’s short- and long-range plan for addressing the budget crisis.
·      Make a public appeal for public support – via the Lifeline Appeal – enabling Howard Brown to continue essential healthcare services to the LGBT communities. Emphasize that Howard Brown would close due to a cash shortage if it did not raise $500,000 by Dec. 24.
·      Tell Howard Brown’s story through compelling, personal stories of 50 people whose lives have been touched by its diverse services to help raise awareness of its critical role in the community.
·      Maintain a steady stream of information updates on the appeal’s success to sustain interest and generate more support.
·      Provide spokesperson training for Howard Brown’s CEO and board chair to prepare them for the news conferences and deskside meetings with editorial boards and reporters during the campaign.
·      Create visuals, including a logo, posters, online posts, to brand the appeal and generate excitement.
·      Engage third-party advocates, including healthcare advocates, LGBT community leaders, elected officials, AIDS/HIV researchers, to call for community support to save Howard Brown. 
·      Celebrate whatever success possible and show deep appreciation for community support and involvement.  
Using the key messages and the research, PCI created an internal question-answer document to help Howard Brown leadership prepare to answer difficult questions. It also developed talking points for the CEO and board chair who served as spokespersons for the news conference on Nov. 4 and again on Dec. 23. 




PCI’s design team created a visual identity for the appeal. A heart with a monitor line in the shape of the Chicago skyline through the middle was continually filled in as the campaign progressed toward the $500,000 goal.
The visual concept was used throughout Chicago, including in the windows of Howard Brown’s brown elephant thrift stores, local yoga studios, business and bars supporting the campaign, and social media channels.
Following the public launch, the Lifeline Appeal was sustained by grassroots efforts hosted by supporters and shared virally, particularly Facebook. The team initiated a targeted Facebook campaign to increase the fan base to nearly six times its previous size. In conjunction with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Howard Brown announced a $25,000 matching grant challenge designed to add new followers for Howard Brown’s page. Leveraging a portion of an anonymous donation, The Power of 25 Campaign pledged $25 for each new fan of Howard Brown on Facebook. The $25,000 was matched in less than 72 hours.
Continuing to garner support throughout the 50-day appeal, the team also added the human element to its story through its 50 Stories in 50 Days series, showcasing real-life stories of how Howard Brown has changed lives. The multi-dimensional series was seen through 2-minute videos shared online through YouTube, Facebook and on the Howard Brown website as well as in print through mailing campaigns to donors and supporters.
Program results surpassed the objectives and accomplished what Howard Brown CEO Jamal Edwards called “a community miracle.” On Dec. 23, the 50th day of the “Lifeline Appeal,” the communications team orchestrated news conference that turned into a community celebration. Leaders unveiled the campaign’s success -- $633,474 raised, to date. Adding to the excitement, a representative of Walgreen’s drugstore chain presented a final gift of $25,000 and added a new total to the campaign poster -- $658,474. The success meant Howard Brown could stay open. The program also:
·      Restored community trust. Editorial coverage of Howard Brown, particularly within the Chicago LGBT media, served as a good measure for keeping a pulse on the community’s perspective. When the crisis was announced, an editorial in the Windy City Times, the leading GLBT community newspaper, criticized the Center for having not been transparent. Once the campaign began, the same paper wrote a positive editorial that even called on the community to donate to Howard Brown.
·      Raised awareness of Howard Brown’s critical role in LGBT communities. Media relations outreach throughout the campaign garnered 90 media placements, with an audience of more than 162 million. Targeted efforts to build Howard Brown’s Facebook network generated incredible results. Started at just 2,100 fans, The Power of 25 campaign added nearly 9,000 new fans.
·      Changed board leadership. While the board initiated the investigation that uncovered Howard Brown’s fund mismanagment, board members understood the importance of showing the community that it really is a “new day” at Howard Brown. With PCI counsel, the board created a succession plan that put a new board chair in place Jan. 1, 2011. It also provided that all board members who served before June 1, 2010 would resign over a period of six months, enabling new members to join the board as Howard Brown begins a new chapter. 


Thanks to an aggressive combination of issues management, strategic development and media relations with grassroots and online efforts, the “Lifeline Appeal” created the miracle recovery for a critical community healthcare center.


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