by Peyton Rowe
Two weeks ago, 124 people came together to create some good. They didn’t serve meals to those without enough to eat or build homes for those who needed shelter. In fact, these volunteers didn’t serve anyone directly. Yet, what they created during this unique event is just as powerful as a direct helping hand. They created change by using their skills, talents and energy at a 24-hour creative event called CreateAthon.
24 straight hours of awesome
CreateAthon at VCU just completed its fifth annual event on March 15th and 16th. The semester long project pairs undergraduate students with Richmond-area non-profits that have little to no marketing budget. These team leaders spend weeks meeting with the clients, doing research and developing strategy, as any ad agency would do. That’s where the similarity ends.
The signature event of CreateAthon at VCU is a 24-hour creative blitz. During this marathon, student teams of 5 or 6 volunteers brainstorm and develop some of the most amazing advertising and marketing work for Richmond non-profits. Professionals from the Richmond area, about 35 this year, take time out of their busy days to mentor these teams, helping to keep the quality of the work as high as it can be. Projects range from brand makeovers to social media strategies and promotional videos to web design. At the end of the 24 hours, the students present the work to the non-profit clients who have little idea the amount of creativity and innovative projects they will see. A good CreateAthon presentation has a tear or two, and not just from the tired students and mentors.
The end of the semester is spent producing work for the organizations at no cost to them. They get great work to help them do great work in the community. Since 2008 (not counting this year yet!), 264 students and professionals have assisted 46 local nonprofits and contributed nearly $800,000 worth of creative material.
The real beauty of this program lies in the benefits to non-profits coupled with the benefits to students and the professionals who mentor. Professionals get a chance to serve the Richmond community and mentor young, energetic students. Students get one of the most unique experiences of their undergraduate career. But there are even more benefits.
CreateAthon thrives on the focused and collaborative energy of talented people using their skills to create good. During the event, nothing but the work and working with others matters. Intense connections are made between people who focus their energy on making the world a better place, one tagline, brochure or logo at a time. People are challenged to stretch themselves creatively, personally, physically and mentally. It is a roller coaster of energy, emotions, failures and successes. But no matter what solutions are developed to help these non-profits, it’s good energy and good work. I have participated in 16 CreateAthons and I learned something new about myself, working with others and serving non-profits each time. Everyone who has ever participated, in full or in part, has come out the other side changed in some way. And, they want to participate again the next year. It’s a wonderful, collaborative cycle that is just gaining momentum here in Richmond.
Richmond leads again
CreateAthon is a national movement, started in 1997 by Riggs Partners, an advertising firm based in Columbia, South Carolina. After holding their own 24-hour event to provide pro bono work to South Carolina non-profits, Riggs Partners began work on making CreateAthon a nationwide event in 2002. Since then, over 2,500 projects have been created to help over 1,100 nonprofits at a combined estimated value of over $15 million. Corporations, professional organizations, agencies and universities have joined the CreateAthon movement, holding events in their own towns. Even cooler, Richmond was the first to have a university model.
This year, CreateAthon has become a non-profit whose mission is to champion effective non-profit marketing through pro bono marathons. As it grows and encourages many other creative groups to serve their communities and themselves with a CreateAthon event, I have an opportunity. I will have the support to inspire other universities to develop their own CreateAthon programs. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has already held its own event. Imagine the possibility for good if 10 more universities developed their own CreateAthon programs next year?
Even better, CreateAthon is good for Richmond. Like so many other great creative initiatives happening in Richmond, CreateAthon will become another reason for Richmond to be known as a great place to use what you do best to create a great city.
Peyton Rowe is an Associate Professor of Design & Creative Advertising in VCU’s School of Mass Communications and a passionate do-gooder. She loves anything 80s so she and her husband inspire their boys to love that iconic decade. You’ll hear her laugh before you see her coming.