Game changers pushed Statesman’s Season for Caring to new record

Season for Caring contributors on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Austin American-Statesman has been producing its annual Season for Caring campaign for 18 years, and in that time it’s raised more than $10 million in cash and in-kind goods for the families it features and the nonprofits who serve them. It is a full-body workout for the Statesman, engaging writers, photographers and videographers as well as the marketing team, all working in conjunction with nonprofit organizations, the Austin Community Foundation and the families themselves.

The stories and photographs about Austin families facing especially tough circumstances resonate deeply with readers, who are moved to give. And though the 2016 campaign doesn’t end until January 31, it has already broken the Season for Caring record, hitting $817,418 on Jan. 20.

Nonprofit fundraisers could learn a thing or two from Jeff Simecek, Statesman community liaison and Season for Caring fund advisor. “We are thrilled at how well the campaign has performed,” said Simecek.

We asked him what made the difference this year. Here’s what he said were the game changers

· The Sheth family of Austin swept in with a $100,000 matching grant — if Season for Caring could raise the same amount of money in 12 days. Excluding the match, the campaign raised just over $197,000 in that time period.

· His team increased the campaign’s social media marketing on Facebook, Twitter, Season for Caring blogs and through the Austin Community Foundation, which administers the funds.

· This year, the Statesman required that the nonprofit partners promote the stories and campaigns through their social channels, too.

· The breadth and depth of the stories this year resonated with readers. Unfortunately two family members died during the campaign (a 39 year old mother of four and a 4 year old diagnosed with leukemia). Readers responded to these situations.

· The team worked hard on donor stewardship, responding quickly to donors, keeping large donors in the loop regarding cumulative donation totals, and more.

· The Statesman recognized major gifts in the Statesman as newsworthy content.

· Key business partners, P. Terry’s, Factory Mattress, Whataburger, Star Furniture, and many others, added Statesman Season for Caring (and charitable causes in general) to their companies philanthropic giving. “They trust that the families and agencies portrayed in the campaign have been vetted by Statesman staff, including background and agency checks on the families,” said Simecek.

To select the families, Simecek and his team start in July, calling a meeting with interested nonprofits. By October, the nonprofits’ nominated families are vetted and selected, and writers, photographers and videographers are assigned to tell the families’ stories. Season for Caring then launches with stories about each of the families published on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

But you can never start too soon. Businesses interested in partnering can contact Jeff Simecek or Nicole Villalpando, Season for Caring editor for 2017 .

The campaign isn’t over yet. Donors are still welcome to give money or goods to support the dozen families… and make their dreams come true. Read more about the families and be inspired by the gifts here.

Photo by Deborah Cannon, Statesman, of Statesman community liaison and fund advisor Jeff Simecek, front row second left, editor Nicole Villalpando, front center, and administrator Perla Adame, front third from right, work with photographers and videographers Kelly West, left, Deborah Cannon, James Gregg and Ricardo Brazziell and reporters Rachel Rice, Cedric Golden, Kirk Bohls, Nancy Flores and Katie Hall among many other reporters and photographers to produce Season for Caring.

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