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Advocacy in a Flash

Samuel J Fanburg - TheNonProfitTimes
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April 20, 2012

Take Stock in Children of Sarasota County (TSIC) put together a fabulous flash mob and surprised approx. 1,000 attendees at the Van Wezel Friday Fest on Friday, August 12, 2011.

Armed with cowboy hats, towels around their hips and questionable dance moves, Take Stock in Children of Sarasota County’s (TSC) flash mob might have been able to spur conversation about the organization’s mission, but did little in terms of raising money.

Once unique to Europe, flash mobs have grown into a global craze. YouTube has been able to broadcast these routines around the world, while still giving a local population a thrilling experience.

Using flash mobs to raise awareness about a specific fund­raising campaign or about an organization’s mission, nonprofit flash mobs have begun popping up around the country.

And even though these flash mobs might bring more traffic to a group’s website or account for a number of people “liking” an organization’s Facebook page, it remains to be seen how these quirky, brief dances translate into actual money raised.

Even though TSC’s flash mob did not translate to dollars, “It was what I had envisioned,” said Dana Bakich, director of marketing and development. “The whole audience was standing up taking photographs and pictures of our dance. People started getting into the dancing. Our dance group began to grow exponentially with people joining in.”

Bakich’s group performed at the Van Wezel Friday Fest in Sarasota, Fla., this past Aug. 12. With assistance from a local dance studio, the group performed “I Believe” by Yolanda Adams.

“We chose ‘I Believe’ because we thought it would completely represent our audience,” said Bakich. “We even got towels printed that had our organization’s name on it to throw out to the crowd. We did not want to wear T-shirts running the risk of people figuring out what we were doing.”

For Bakich, the flash mob was not intended to be a fundraising campaign, but simply a way to raise awareness about the organization. Four videos showcasing the dance were then uploaded to YouTube, which collectively have been viewed 1,500 times.

“It was great for a small company like us,” said Bakich. “It also really built up morale for our organization. After the dance we went out to dinner as a group and talked about how we thought the event went.” Conroe Brooks, co-founder of Flash Mob America in Los Angeles, Calif., said that nonprofits using flash mobs are tied to the rise in accessing Internet videos. “YouTube has been huge,” he said. “Before, people could only really see flash mobs in person. It’s definitely a way to get your cause out to the public.”

Brooks said he’s been assisting nonprofits perform flash mobs since the company’s inception two-and-one-half years ago. Similar to TSCS, Brooks said that nonprofits “rarely” want to fundraise when they come to him. Instead, nonprofits are looking to flash mobs as a way to illustrate their organizations’ mission or highlight a specific campaign or program underway.

For Claudia Perrone, marketing specialist at Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) in Kanab, Utah, the latter option provided the fuel for adapting a flash mob to their “Invisible Dog” campaign.

The Invisible Dog is a social awareness campaign started in 2011 by BFAS intended to bring sheltered dogs into the spotlight. Perrone said the idea for a flash mob came into play when “we wanted to approach a younger audience.”

After convening with Flash Mob America, both parties agreed Central Park in New York City would make an ideal location. Participants took the iconic “invisible” dog leashes popular during the 1970s and performed dances with them.

“We wanted to keep the tone lighthearted,” said Perrone. “We ended up having 50 invisible dogs walkers by Bethesda Fountain (within Central Park), casually walking around. People were being very theatrical by pretending to have an actual dog on their leash.” BFAS used the song “Friday is Forever” by the group We The Kings. As ambassadors for BFAS, We The Kings allowed the organization to use the song.

BFAS did not dispense T-shirts or blankets, but had dancers give away posters and bumper stickers. “We really wanted to capture the crowd’s interest and have them visit the website,” said Perrone. “You have to be really quick in and out. Some people were wearing T-shirts, but it was more about the leash than the T-shirts.”

Even though the flash mob occurred on Nov. 7, 2011, BFAS had uploaded the video to YouTube this past January. Perrone said the delay was because professional videographers were putting together a comprehensive version of the dance.

The delay in posting the video goes against the advice offered by Bakich for a successful flash mob. “Plan, plan, plan,” said Bakich. “If you can’t wear something that shows who your organization is, give them a takeaway. Also, have the YouTube posted as soon as possible. Tag as many people in the video as you can. When the video is on 40 different Facebook pages, you will have a lot of people looking at it.”

Flash mobs don’t just have to be dancing. In Harwich Port, Mass., the Harwich Ecumenical Council for the Homeless (HECH) held a flash mob where people simply held up signs displaying “Free Hugs.”

“I saw a flash mob in Stockholm where someone walked around with a sign that displayed ‘Free Hugs’,” said Pam Parmakian, executive director. “I made up 500 signs and handed them out to people with the instructions ‘at exactly 7 pm, hold up your sign and greet people.’”

Parmakian estimated that about 200-300 people participated in the event. The event was timed to take place during the annual Hariwchport Music Stroll.

Similar to the other flash mobs, Parmakian organized the event to raise awareness about what the organization was accomplishing and received $1,000 in donations from onlookers.

“Flash mobs don’t have to be about dancing,” said Brooks. “It’s usually always in public. It’s important to ask yourself, ‘How do we still make an impact with people and make the event a moving experience?’”

A video of the flash mob was uploaded to YouTube by a local news channel. “I would definitely do another one,” said Parmakian. “People were asking me ‘When is the next one going to be?’ It was so spontaneous. Make sure you make the event fun, involve as many people as you can and the press the day before.”

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