For several years in a row, the number of deteriorating houses that Rebuilding Together Houston (RTH) volunteer crews repaired for low-income elderly and veteran homeowners hovered around 365. Although an average of one per day was impressive, RTH clearly was not meeting the city’s needs because its waiting list continued to expand each year. When the Board of Directors met in 2013 to discuss long-range goals, there were nearly 500 qualified homeowners awaiting RTH’s help. It became clear that in order to increase its impact, the nearly 35-year-old nonprofit needed not only to re-energize its current base of donors and 5,000 volunteers, but it would have to grow those numbers as well.
In 2014, the RTH Board undertook a nine-month strategic planning process. Its “Big Hairy Audacious Goal" was to almost double the number of families being served to 700 by the year 2020. An initial benchmark of 500 was set for sometime around the half-way point. Noting that The Super Bowl would be coming to Houston in 2017, RTH hired a marketing firm to help construct a Super Impact 17 campaign with the goal of raising $500,000 and completing repairs on 500 homes in time for the big game. To create excitement for the campaign, “Vision 700” was first introduced to the public at RTH’s 2015 Volunteer Appreciation Awards Luncheon. Super Impact 17 was officially launched with a marketing, brand-awareness and "friend-raising" event at NRG Stadium on September 17, 2015, with various other football-themed events planned over the next 17 months prior to Super Bowl LI, culminating in a large community rebuilding project during the week leading up to the game.
Even before the final KICKOFF TO REBUILD project in Independence Heights, the first incorporated African American city in Texas, took place, Rebuilding Together Houston could already tout Super Impact 17 as a success. With the original target of 17 house sponsorships at $17,000 - $25,000 apiece, early momentum helped RTH meet over 60% of its goal in the first six months of the campaign; so it raised the bar to 25 houses. New corporate and nonprofit partnerships helped to propel the campaign’s capstone project into a major neighborhood event. Not only did volunteers, including NFL players, make exterior house restorations allowing a half dozen low-income elderly and veteran Independence Heights homeowners to safely age in place in their own homes; but they also created a new Welcome Center, a monument garden recognizing the Historic District’s 1908 origin, refurbished space for expanded Food Pantry operations and added a green space with native plants for community gatherings.
And anyone who paid attention to the local news that week, knew all about it.
The campaign exceeded all expectations. In total, 730 homes were repaired over the 17-month period, 30 of which were sponsored and included several smaller, first-time sponsorships; and the campaign raised $630,000. Granted, Rebuilding Together National’s 22-year relationship with the NFL helped. However, it was the Houston affiliate’s advance planning, willingness to invest in marketing/media and additional personnel, and strong leadership conveying a clear vision with distinct goals that really made it happen.
Any nonprofit can ride the wave of publicity that accompanies a major event; but every surfer knows that the distance you will travel depends on how you are positioned and your momentum when it hits.
Linda K. Beeman, MBA, GPC
President, Aurora Grants & Consulting®