by Rachel Hutchisson, Business Doing Good & Blackbaud, Inc.

Next up is another profile of a firm featured in the new eBook I produced with A Billion+Change and Riggs Partners for #GivingTuesday.  These write ups are being featured one by one with permission from the eBook team.

Riggs Partners – a marketing and communications firm that helps clients bring clarity to their brands in a way that enables them to more fully achieve their organizational purpose. 

 Our story — Riggs Partners is dedicated to helping corporations, public sector agencies and nonprofit organizations develop purposeful brands.  We harness the power of marketing and public relations to a meaningful end – whether that’s helping clients articulate and demonstrate their brands, develop innovative products and experiences, or engage their customers, constituents and employees in positive behavior.

Why we’re unique — Our commitment to corporate social responsibility is best demonstrated in CreateAthon, an annual 24-hour marketing marathon we developed in 1998 to benefit nonprofit organizations in South Carolina.  Seventeen years later, CreateAthon has grown from a single-market event to a 501(c) 3 organization that has engaged 99 different marketing organizations in the US, Canada and Europe.  All together, these events have served over 1,300 nonprofits and delivered more than $16 million in pro bono marketing services.

Our skills-based volunteerism — Riggs Partners was continually being asked to provide pro bono marketing services to nonprofits in our community. As a small firm, we struggled with determining which nonprofits to adopt, when to provide the pro bono work, and how to manage the work in a way that would not overburden us. We decided to focus our service efforts at one time, via a unique delivery model that would engage and motivate our staff while allowing us to do more work for more nonprofits. Our thesis proved immediately true with the first CreateAthon event in 1998, when our team of 11 marketing professionals selected and served 13 nonprofits.

CreateAthon teams are comprised of people with expertise in brand strategy, visual design, copywriting and content development, media placement, digital marketing, public relations, and project management. Deliverables range from comprehensive brand strategy, brand design, marketing and public relations planning and digital marketing strategy, to the development and production of projects such as web sites, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, television, video and radio, outdoor and place-based advertising, direct mail, print collateral, and so on.  Counsel provided through CreateAthon also has expanded into helping nonprofits build and market social enterprise initiatives designed to diversify revenue stream and boost long-term sustainability.

Our challenges — Our biggest challenges are selecting the nonprofits that have the kind of marketing and public relations assignment we could address effectively within a 24-hour marathon, adapting our project management protocols to facilitate work in this model, and managing expectations with the pro bono clients about what we can and cannot solve or provide in 24 hours. For example, we have to ramp up the work faster, deliver it in a concentrated period of time, facilitate client approval, and wrap up the projects in a timely fashion. Surprisingly, this challenge is the very thing that makes us most successful, uniting us as a firm and helping us all see what we can achieve when we are united in mission-based service.

How serving helps our business — CreateAthon has certainly generated a tremendous amount of goodwill for Riggs Partners in our community, both in nonprofit and business circles. It has positively impacted business development, recruiting and retention, and has led to more staff engagement in volunteerism such as board service.  We’ve been recognized for our leadership in expanding the program nationally, and have greatly benefited from meeting other leaders in the pro bono movement.  While we’re proud of all that CreateAthon has achieved, we’re most inspired by the way CreateAthon has moved thousands of people in the communicating arts to put their talents to work for good.

Advice for other businesses interested in skills-based volunteerism — Force yourself to think outside of the ways in which you typically deliver services to your clients. While your business service protocols may be the perfect way to manage pro bono services, our experience in talking with other small businesses is that they have difficulty in making pro bono work fit into their existing business models. For us, it was embracing an outrageous idea like a 24-hour marathon.  Think about a new way to approach pro bono work, and odds are you might discover something that will open up new ways of carrying out your work, just as CreateAthon did for us.

Want to learn more?  Contact Teresa Coles, managing partner.

Rachel Hutchisson (@RachelHutchssn) is VP, Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy at Blackbaud, Inc., a 2,700-person technology company that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations. She built the company’s “give back” function from the ground up, relying on expertise she gained in over two decades of working at the intersection of the business world and the nonprofit sector. Rachel is a member of the #GivingTuesday core advisory team, leads her company’s involvement in the Billion+Change pro-bono initiative, and serves on the boards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals International, The Giving Institute, and the Coastal Community Foundation. She is also a member of the core team that launched TEDxCharleston in 2013. She is a graduate of Dickinson College and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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