It’s a balmy early December evening in downtown Los Angeles. On the plaza outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion tree branches are strung with white lights, the red carpet has been rolled out and a crowd has gathered to watch celebrities stroll along the step-and-repeat before a gaggle of photographers. The flash of their cameras, the VIPs and women in sparkly gowns give the occasion the glitz of a movie premiere or the Academy Awards. Actually, it’s the taping of the American Giving Awards presented by Chase, the culmination of the bank’s community giving platform that on that special night bestowed $2 million to five charitable organizations.
The two-hour show, hosted by Bob Costas and featuring a star-studded cast of presenters and entertainers along with the charities, aired on NBC the following night. Headliners such as Miley Cyrus and 50 Cent spoke passionately about the organizations they introduced; Rodney Atkins, LeAnn Rimes, will.i.am and others pumped up the audience with their music; actor Colin Farrell received a special award for his efforts to combat homophobia, support the Special Olympics and raise awareness of Angelman Syndrome, a neuro-genetic order that afflicts his son. The armed forces were honored. Videos and live presentations highlighted the charities.
The program was moving and inspirational, and in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, comes at a time when bankers and Wall Street investment houses could use a boost in image. Chase’s community giving effort sheds a positive light on the bank. It also proved in its execution that crowdsourced content and community-driven event campaigns are not limited to the world of soda pop and sports car marketing.
Conventional event marketing strategies often begin with a live experience that pushes content to Facebook and other social media. The Chase program, however, began on Facebook where the bank leveraged the voting power of millions of fans to determine the five winning charities. It’s a program that, in essence, crowdsourced the content that would be featured at the live experience. Exclusive footage from the show was then uploaded to Facebook, bringing the experience back full circle to re-engage Chase’s fans and community. The whole shebang involved the bank’s charitable arm the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, handling event agency Intersport, Dick Clark Productions and a host of other partners. The result was event marketing worthy of its own star on Hollywood Boulevard.
The ‘Spirit of Crowdsourcing’
With a history of philanthropy that goes back to its roots with the Morgans and the Rockefellers, charitable giving is nothing new to JPMorgan Chase. Through its Foundation, it gives more than $150 million annually in awards and grants to charitable organizations. But two years ago it fast-forwarded into the social-media era with Chase Community Giving: You Decide What Matters, a Facebook initiative in addition to its traditional philanthropic portfolio in which small and local non-profit organizations from the IRS database can describe their mission, how they accomplish it and upload video content. Facebook users vote to determine which ones receive grants from the bank.
“The program is really about being open and getting as many charities and people involved as possible,” says Dalila Wilson-Scott, executive director at the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. “We want people to browse the list of thousands of charities, decide which charities are serving the causes most important to them and engage their friends and other networks in voting for these charities. In the true spirit of crowdsourcing, that is what happens, and the charities that receive the most votes then have the opportunity to receive grants through the program.”
Its first campaign in 2009 awarded 100 charities a total of $5 million, with a San Diego-based organization called Invisible Children receiving the top $1 million prize. In that campaign, the charities were all registered public non-profits with annual operating expenses from $1 million to $10 million. Three more campaigns have since followed, including two for smaller charities with operating expenses less than $1 million, for a total of 500 winners and $18 million in donations. In March of 2011, Chase announced an additional $25 million commitment to the program.
“Chase Community Giving provides an opportunity to do two major things—to have access to small organizations that in many cases don’t have infrastructures and are doing a lot of their work online and to give those organizations access to significant resources that are available beyond just money,” says Kimberly Davis, president of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. Although the money is important, she says, it’s also about giving them access to resources, leveraging contacts and educating them about cultivating donors and relationship building.
As Ben Keesey, executive director and ceo at Invisible Children, puts it, “The impact of Chase Community Giving has been incredible and transformative for Invisible Children. Receiving the CCG grant at the beginning of 2010 was a catalyst for the best year in our organization’s history.”
With nearly a billion users, Facebook is a critical part of the program. “The program lives on Facebook and has nearly 3.5 million fans,” says Wilson-Scott. “No matter who you are, no matter where you are throughout the country, there are so many passionate causes, one for everybody to get involved in. Facebook users can go onto the Chase Community Giving application, find their favorite charity or cause and support that charity in a very different way than we can as bankers in our physical footprint.”
Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. Chase’s first community giving campaign raised accusations of improper voting for some of the charities, and the lack of a public leaderboard to tally the votes didn’t help. Other groups complained that they were disqualified without notice. Now, Chase’s global security and investigation department is involved to ensure the integrity of the voting process.
In 2010, the Foundation turned to Intersport, which is active with several lines of business at the bank, for ideas to raise awareness and visibility of its community giving program. “We came back with half a dozen, and four of the six they ended up executing,” says Jim Kenyon, vp-strategic alliances at Intersport. Among the suggestions: developing video content for the web to tell the stories of the charities and how Chase Community Giving enabled them to have greater impact in their communities; a webinar with the founder of Twitter that streamed to philanthropic organizations all over America, informing them of best practices and how to use social media to generate funds for their causes; and, last but not least, a national broadcast awards show, the American Giving Awards.
“That was like the big idea, the one that, ‘Oh, God, they’ll never do it,’” Kenyon says with a laugh. But they did.
From ‘Big Idea’ to Big Night
Chase green lit the show in August 2011, about three months before its air date, but the work began long before the actual go-ahead. That involved securing top talent on the production side, looking at venue options and getting the program in a condition that its executives could evaluate.
Intersport in partnership with Dick Clark Productions brokered a deal with NBC for distribution, lined up Bob Costas as host, booked talent, signed local vendors to handle the red carpet setup and executed the show. Public relations agency Sunshine Sachs signed on to leverage celebrity publicity with philanthropy to help drive visibility of the charities.
Intersport’s events team handled on-the-ground logistics such as audience coordination, ticket fulfillment and destination management services for Chase VIPs, the charities, their guests and honored military attendees. It handled celebrity transportation and meals, pre- and post-show receptions for the charities, an opening ceremonies reception and a charity celebration dinner.
On Chase’s end, a team of people from various disciplines within the company served as senior overseers, including its global security and investigation department, legal, philanthropy, product development, marketing, even the ceo. “We have a multi-disciplinary, fluid team,” says Davis. “People come in as needed.”
Davis, who has been with the foundation for five years but with the firm for 22 years in a variety of roles, brings to the table her expertise around the organizations and the relationship-building and ensured the show represented the bank’s interests from a philanthropic perspective.
Voting for the American Giving Awards winners occurred in the days leading up to the show. In the fall, Chase divided its pool of winning charities over the past three years into five categories—Educators and Mentors, Champions of Health and Wellness, Heroes and Leaders, Community Builders and Youth Developers. Voters once again decided five winners, one in each category, who were then invited to participate in the awards show. From Dec. 1 to 8, fans of Chase Community Giving and the bank’s online customers determined how much each charity would receive by voting for their favorite online.
Throughout the voting period and after the event, consumers could stay engaged by using the Twitter hashtag (#Giving Awards) to share what giving means to them. A geo-location map launched on Dec. 1 enabled people from around the country to connect via Twitter, then share their tweet. A map would populate with a pin at the writer’s location. Tweets from the map appeared on the screen during the broadcast.
Taping for the event took place on Dec. 9 and the show aired Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. on NBC. Other than a few minor flubs, which were edited out of the final version, the show went off without a hitch. Costas was his usual smooth, affable self. The audience was upbeat and the entertainment top-notch, ranging from country to hip-hop. Taio Cruz had the audience standing and clapping; little Jackie Evancho moved them to tears. Besides Miley Cyrus, “Dancing with the Stars” winner J.R. Martinez, actors Terence Howard, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Gabrielle Union, along with Miss USA Alyssa Campanella introduced the charities.
The winner, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) of Cocoa, FL, which helps people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide, took home the top $1 million grant. Four other finalists split another $1 million in grants from Chase: Let’s Get Ready ($500,000), which provides free SAT preparation and college admission counseling to low-income students; Matthew Shepard Foundation ($250,000), for raising awareness of anti-gay hate crimes; Wish Upon a Hero Foundation ($125,000), which utilizes social media and technology to fulfill wishes of those in need of support; and Move for Hunger ($125,000), which works with moving companies to deliver food items to local food banks.
Every element of the broadcast—set design and lighting, concept development, the script, feature segments, show/entertainment development even the presenters—aligned with the Chase brand. Although the bank financed and ran eight ads during the show, its brand integration on-stage and in the green room was subtle. “We wanted people to understand that this was really about the organizations and our desire to showcase the organizations,” says Davis. “Obviously we are a company, there is indeed a halo effect, but our primary objective is about the organizations, and our efforts have really been focused on that.”
Maintaining Momentum Online
After the awards were bestowed and the final curtain dropped, producers worked overnight to deliver the show to NBC in final form by 9 a.m. the next morning, when red carpet and backstage interviews with the celebrities and charities also went up on Facebook and other sites.
Ever mindful of its Facebook audience, Chase created some content that wasn’t included in the broadcast, such as how the second million dollar award was split between the other four winners. “Chase has been very progressive with how it has utilized the Facebook platform,” says Scot Thor, vp-production and programming at Intersport. “That was really top of mind throughout the development of this program. The Facebook audience had really been the driving force for the success of this program. Chase did a fantastic job of challenging us to make sure this was not a TV-only property or an online-only property. We made sure those two elements worked in harmony.”
When it comes to measuring success, Davis points to the more than 3.5 million fans the bank has gained through the effort, which she describes as an “incredible accomplishment and a measure of evaluation around the effectiveness of this form of giving.” A second metric, which is less quantifiable, has more to do with the experience and relationships with the charities, beginning with Invisible Children, the first million dollar winner, and the increased work it has been able to do as a result.
“Those two examples, both the quantifiable and the more subjective, affirm for us that this is an absolute part of a platform that we will continue to support and encourage other foundations and philanthropists to think about,” Davis says.
Although this year’s American Giving Awards show may be over, Chase’s charitable efforts still live on Facebook. “We’re looking at a number of innovations and we plan to continue to customize the program and provide maximum exposure for the organizations,” Davis says.
Wilson-Scott agrees. “We want to be really active in the social media space because we feel that the generation now is excited about philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, they are clearly using social networking to connect with each other and we want to be a part of that,” she says.
As for next year’s show, it’s too soon to tell. In the meantime, see you on Facebook.