The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford has been providing a “home away from home” to seriously ill children and their families for over 20 years. With over 300 families turned away in 1999 alone due to space limitations, the House recognized the need to expand to ensure that no family is ever turned away. The House began planning a Campaign to raise $15.9 million in funds to double its current capacity. Walt & Company was brought in to spearhead the public relations efforts to raise awareness of the House during the quiet phase (January 2000 – August 2000) and launch of the Campaign (Sept. 13, 2000) in order to secure support for the Campaign’s official announcement. As a result of the public relations program, an outpouring of support from the surrounding community helped the House surpass it’s fundraising goal within a month after the Campaign’s official announcement.
The Walt & Company team developed the Capital Campaign public relations plan (Exhibit A) as well as coordinated and executed program elements on a pro bono basis. The Ronald McDonald House budget is solely allocated to House operations and administration (Exhibit B). There is no funding for public relations services, therefore all hours and resources allocated were absorbed by Walt & Company. With the absence of a marketing budget, the House relied solely on public relations efforts to raise awareness of the Campaign within the surrounding community. There was no budget allotment for advertisements in local publications or on radio/television broadcasts.
Research conducted prior to the Capital Campaign launch identified a core group of willing potential donors (Exhibit C). Based on this research, Walt & Company strategically targeted potential corporate sponsors and high-net-worth individuals by pitching leading local business publications most often read and subscribed to by this audience. These publications included the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, San Jose Business Journal and Silicon Valley Business Ink, a new local publication. Walt & Company also targeted local news radio and television stations based in San Francisco.
The team’s objectives were: (1) To raise public awareness of the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford in core local communities; (2) Enlist public support for the Capital Campaign; (3) Help drive community and institutional Capital Campaign fundraising programs.
To help achieve these objectives the Walt & Company team strategically planned a series of events to keep the House at the forefront of visibility within the local community. The team developed and dispatched a steady stream of media alerts, press releases and pitches to the targeted publications to invite them to attend the event as well as to leverage coverage for the House (Exhibits D). Because these events were held prior to the official announcement of the Capital Campaign in September 2000, there was no coverage of the fundraising program at this point. Instead, the team focused on gaining the compassion of the local community for the House, thus enforcing the need for the House to remain in the community and allow more rooms for individual care. This was achieved by hosting events such as a barbecue with the local Palo Alto Fire Department which received coverage in the Palo Alto Weekly, as well as supporting broadcast press participation for a day long field trip for the children of the House to Sea World in San Diego, Calif., which garnered coverage on several local broadcast stations.
Due to momentum gained by coverage of the House during the Campaign’s quiet phase (Exhibit E), Walt & Company was able to secure the interest of all targeted top tier publications when the official Capital Campaign announcement was made in September 2000. Walt & Company issued a press release for the Campaign (Exhibit F), and conducted widespread pitching efforts, which resulted in feature stories on the Campaign by the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, as well as coverage in USA Today, local business journals, news radio programs and television stations (Exhibit G). As a result of this coverage, a local community member and eBay employee decided to donate $5 million to the House in support of the Campaign, making it the largest single donation to a Ronald McDonald House charity in the 27 years the organization has been in existence. This donation put the Capital Campaign well above its original fundraising goal, months ahead of schedule, a testament to the power and success of a well thought out and executed public relations program.