Background

Each year thousands of young people are disconnected from society due to abuse, neglect, drug addiction and poverty – with many ending up in out-of-home care and, in many cases, the youth justice system. Whitelion is a not for profit organisation supporting disadvantaged young people in order that they may build meaningful relationships and create opportunities to reconnect with society and reach their full potential.

Bail Out is Whitelion’s annual flagship fundraising campaign held each year at the end of May, which aims to raise much needed funds to support youths at risk. The inaugural Bail Out event was in 2006, and since then it has evolved significantly, transforming from a one-day physical event into a multifaceted and multichannel fundraising campaign. Not only does Bail Out raise much needed funds, it’s also a strong opportunity to educate key stakeholders about youth issues and what it is like to ‘step into the shoes’ of one of these disadvantaged youths.

The Fundraising Institute of Australia (Victorian Chapter) has awarded Whitelion Best Special Event for Bail Out for the 2006, ’07 and ’08 calendar years. 

Client: Whitelion
Digital agency: Bwired
Campaign: Bail Out

Objectives

The key objectives of the Whitelion Bail Out, which have remained consistent since its inception, are to:

  • raise Whitelion’s brand profile and further enhance the understanding of Whitelion’s mission to key stakeholders
  • educate supporters about the issues faced by the young people with whom Whitelion works
  • raise $200,000-plus and keep expenses minimal, and
  • secure corporate sponsorship support and media attention.

From a marketing perspective, Whitelion’s objective over the last two years has been to develop Bail Out from a special event to an annual iconic fundraising campaign. This was integral to the approach for Bail Out 2010.

Strategy

To drive the development of the event into a campaign, Whitelion knew further increasing the focus of the web was going to be important. The Whitelion Bail Out 2010 website, developed by existing web partner bwired, would be used to:

  • provide more opportunities for supporters to get involved, regardless of their financial contribution, geography and time constraints
  • encourage and facilitate Bail Out fundraisers, aka ‘inmates’, to register and partake in an online Bail Out
  • foster an online community and drive competition
  • distribute electronic mail to supporters and partners, and
  • enable the Whitelion team to post updates, news and other details instantaneously.

Along with the increased use of the website, Whitelion used a number of other communications channels to gain maximum exposure and drive support, including:

  • advertising – newspaper and radio via sponsorship
  • media and PR – launch event
  • direct mail to previous supporters and registered inmates, and
  • flyers and posters at train stations and cafés.

Execution

The first phase of the campaign kicked off with the launch of the Whitelion Bail Out 2010 website in February. The interactive website enabled Whitelion to promote the event and provide information to supporters around how they could become involved, including a prompt for visitors to register swiftly and easily, either as an individual ‘inmate’ or as part of a ‘gang’ for competing workplaces, families and friends. Participants from Bail Out 2009 were contacted through electronic mail that was distributed via the website database and encouraged to support the 2010 event and become a ‘reoffending inmate’.

Web partner bwired created a fundraising tally for each inmate on the website, which was highlighted to encourage healthy competition amongst participants. Regular enewsletters were also run out of the website providing updates, teasers and entertainment like a comical inmate Q&A to the Bail Out database. To encourage donations, once participants had raised $25 online they were sent a handcuff to wear for the Bail Out week of 24 to 28 May. A first for 2010, the handcuffs became a Bail Out symbol and were used as a means of raising awareness of the campaign and driving donations. Another incentive for online fundraisers was tickets to the Parole Party, awarded to inmates who raised $150 or over.

The online voting functionality developed by bwired (i-Vote) allowed Whitelion to segment the online participation between entrants and voters. Site visitors were able to make donations and custom fields were then used to gather segmented data profiles on users to create a database of both entrants and voters. i-Vote also provided a gallery of Bail Out participant profiles, ‘the inmate line-up’, and a search function so voters could easily find the person they wanted to donate to or Bail Out. This functionality was integrated with a secure third party payment gateway, to facilitate and process donations quickly, easily and securely. In addition, bwired’s secure member pages module protected the privacy of visitors when registering and donating.

Ben King, Whitelion Bail Out event manager, says, “The website was such a large part of the execution of this year’s campaign. The design and functionality made the user experience seamless and the intuitive nature of the site promoted a high level of efficiency that allowed us to concentrate on the actual campaign, rather than the administration.”

The final phase of the campaign consisted of a week of heightened fundraising efforts and marketing activities that culminated in the physical Bail Out event, which took place at the Old Melbourne Gaol precinct on Friday 28 May. Activities included a youth justice forum to discuss issues confronting young people in the youth justice system and a schools initiative that targeted schools and encouraged them to take part – Keysborough College and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) partnered with Whitelion to pilot this new initiative.

One hundred and thirty of the online inmates submitted themselves to participate in the evening of incarceration in which a minimum of $1000 had to be raised before their release to the official Parole Party. Registered inmates who did not attend the Bail Out event were encouraged to register their own breakout events through the website, including raising funds at school, in the office or at home; for example, locking up their teacher or boss for a lunch break and rallying the team to bail them out.

The event was fully themed and theatrical with 30 actors role-playing police, prison guards and rogue inmates. “Upon arrival, inmates were fingerprinted and photographed before being fed a themed meal of prison gruel, bread rolls and water,” explains King. “After splitting into groups, the inmates went on an interactive experience of the justice system, featuring interrogations, parole hearings and even an interesting take on prison aerobics!”

After facing judiciary and doing time in a cell, final pledges and donations were sought and the record amount of inmates were released to over 250 guests next door at the official Parole Party. Meanwhile, Parole Party guests were enjoying an electric array of live music, roving entertainment and podium performers throughout the night.

Results

Key results of Whitelion Bail Out 2010:

  • the campaign raised $240,000 (from the website launch until 30 June) and with the assistance of sponsors expenses were kept to a minimum
  • Whitelion achieved a record number of 199 online inmate/team registrations and 130 participants attended the physical Bail Out event
  • Whitelion grew its online supporter data base by over 200 people; the website received 7885 hits during the campaign with up to 87 visitors per day and the majority of traffic came from Google and the Whitelion website
  • 2274 donations were made via the Bail Out website
  • the involvement of 18 partners and sponsors was secured, including Metlink, Audio Visual Dynamics, Harts Party Hire, Foster’s, Yarrawood, National Trust of Australia (Victoria), Marekai Events and Ckaos Ink – plus Bail Out had representation from companies large and small, including KFC, Bovis Lend Lease, NAB, WaiveStar, AAR, City West Water, Alex Kaar, Minter Ellison and the ATO, and
  • celebrity involvement throughout the campaign and at the event included entertainer, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, singer and television personality, Mark Holden, Olympic swimming champion, Michael Klim and Australian golfing champion, Stuart Appleby.

A significant amount of media coverage appeared in a variety of Victorian media outlets from metropolitan newspapers like The Age and The Sunday Herald Sun to local outlets like the Caulfield Glen Eira Leader and the Bendigo Miner. The coverage generated around the event raised awareness of the campaign and highlighted Whitelion’s mission.

“The increased online utilisation coupled with new initiatives and the crescendo that was the Bail Out evening has taken us one step closer towards or goal of making Whitelion Bailout an iconic national campaign,” said King.