The following is a powerful example of how a
professional public relations practitioner used strategic communications
to greatly enhanced a charitable fundraising program.
Yellow Brick House (YBH) is a non-profit organization
in Aurora, Ontario which is committed to providing shelter, support
services and counselling for women and their children who are
in crisis as a result of abuse or loss of housing.
YBH is dependent on the Ministry of Community and Social Services
for most of its funding. The balance of its budget, about $300,000
annually, must he raised through its own means and resources within
the diverse community it serves.
Although many residents in the community are affluent and have
been supportive of Yellow Brick Houses initiatives, they are
inundated by fundraising requests from equally deserving organizations
locally and within the greater Toronto area. A few years ago, YBH
identified the need for a captivating and creative concept to differentiate
it from other fundraising efforts. It also needed an external space
to hold media and other public events because of security and privacy
To meet these needs and provide a unique and sustainable focus,
Mark LaVigne, APR conceived the "Pathway of Peace" on
a pro bono basis as a volunteer Board member. Working closely with
YBH Executive Director Filomena Williams, Lavigne developed the
concept of refurbishing a run-down public park in downtown Aurora
by building a cobblestone path accompanied by a landmark monument.
Funds were raised by selling the cobblestones or "bricks"
at multi-tier donation levels (individuals, small businesses and
Williams and LaVigne spent three years developing the project working
closely with Town Council and its committees, with key suppliers,
the YBH Board, and other stakeholders in the community. In particular,
Auroras Mayor, Tim Jones, has been a great supporter of the
project and has officiated at all media events including the launch.
Hilary Weston , as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, officially launched
the Pathway of Peace on June 27, 2000 attracting considerable media
and public attention. Various media relations techniques were utilized,
including paid wire distribution of media advisories and releases,
procurement (at cost or pro bono) of a professional photographer
and videographer to create high-resolution digital still images
and BETA tape (B-roll) for news media consumption, and the creation
of a CD-ROM media kit that included downloadable images and low-resolution
video of Hilary Westons launch speech. Several events have
been held since to sustain the momentum.
In addition to the launch event, other promotional activities have
included a teaser photo-op event of monument arrival for engraving,
as well as several commemoration events, where plaques listing new
donor names, were unveiled. Public relations industry suppliers,
who donated their services in kind or at cost, have also been honoured
with their names placed on the initial plaque unveiled in June,
The Pathway of Peace has also been used for other events, including
"Take Back the Night" marches in 2000 and 2001, and a
memorial vigil for a woman found murdered in her Woodbridge home
in late April, 2002. Flowers are frequently laid at the base of
the monument to honour slain women across the GTA and province.
More than six million first impressions have been generated in
news media during the Pathways two-year history, including
local media, such as CKVR-TV, Shaw Cable, Rogers
Cable, the Era Banner, Town Crier, the Liberal
and the Auroran, as well as Toronto-based Global TV,
and CBC Radio (five minute documentary).
To date, Yellow Brick Houses Pathway of Peace has generated
close to $50,000 in revenue and some 300 bricks have been sold.
The Pathway itself, utilizing goods and services worth well over
$100,000, was built for just under $33,000. That hard cost was paid
for in six months after the official opening.
This project met all of its objectives. To this day Pathway to
Peace continues to generate awareness of Yellow Brick House and
abuse/homeless issues through media coverage, to raise funds through
brick sales, to foster community involvement through its central
proximity and urban renewal value, to offer a place that the abused
and troubled can use for solace, to remember those who lost their
lives due to violence, and to provide a public venue for YBH media
and special events.
A dream since its inception, the Pathway of Peace concept is spreading
internationally, hopefully one day creating a virtual Pathway of
Peace spanning the globe. Womens shelters or similar-minded
groups in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Oshawa, Kingston, Vermont and London,
England, have all expressed interest in creating their own "Pathway
Mark LaVigne, APR, owns and operates Hunter LaVigne Communications
Inc. He is also Co-Chair of the Board of Directors at Yellow Brick
House, and President of the Canadian Public Relations Society (Toronto).
Leslie Hetherington is a media relations specialist who works
with Hunter LaVigne Communications Inc. and is Chair of Marketing
and Promotion for CPRS (Toronto). To contact Hunter LaVigne Communications
Inc. telephone (905) 841-2017 or E-mail email@example.com.
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