Cathy Monetti was in her twenties when she founded Riggs Partners, a creative marketing consulting firm in Columbia, S.C. in 1987. Through her work there, Monetti often encountered one of the classic paradoxes of the nonprofit world: organizations that had a great need for marketing expertise but lacked the financial means to pay for it.
Eager to bring her firm’s talent and skills to help the organizations, their missions and their constituencies, Monetti and fellow Riggs partner Teresa Coles co-founded CreateAthon, a 24-hour pro bono creative blitz, in 1998. The goal was twofold: to have a positive impact on the organizations in need and to set aside time to work on pro bono projects without interfering with the workflow for paying clients. With CreateAthon, these pro bono volunteers launched a new form of giving.
During the nonstop marathon that is CreateAthon, marketing, advertising and public relations firms provide creative services pro bono for nonprofits. "We have something to offer that they desperately need," she says. "And it’s a perfect match." According to Monetti, CreateAthon is the best day of the year for all Riggs employees.
Prior to the all-nighter, Riggs evaluates applications from local nonprofits to determine which organizations they can best serve. Staying true to their original goal, Monetti says: "We want to help nonprofits who don’t have the resources to go anywhere else, who have a mission we believe in and that marketing can help." After meeting with an account manager to discuss the mission and challenges of each organization, the team maps out a creative brief in advance so that the focus of the 24-hour period is entirely on generating the solution.
The creative blitz begins at 8 a.m. on Thursday and ends at 8 a.m. on Friday with client presentations. While the crew goes home to sleep, the nonprofits have 24 hours to request revisions before production starts. Each year, Riggs Partners helps 10 to 12 appreciative organizations from start to finish, at no cost to the nonprofit. For example, Riggs developed the "10 Word Novel" program for the South Carolina Humanities Council to generate a new level of interest in their annual book festival, by tapping into the reader’s dream of writing the great American novel in 10 words or less.
"Nonprofits are much more willing to take a risk. They trust us more," Monetti notes. "There is greater opportunity to have a little idea and let it blossom into something much bigger. They are willing to let us run with it. Having that freedom and that support has enhanced our work."
What started as an initiative to help alleviate a few local concerns has grown to include more than 70 participating agencies across the country, and has impacted more than 1,275 nonprofit organizations through 3,000 projects valued at more than $15 million in services. Today, CreateAthon includes a curriculum-based university spin-off, CreateAthon on Campus, as well as a model that can be adopted by corporate marketing departments and professional organizations. And yet, Monetti says, "I haven’t created anything. The work has formed me."
Today Riggs Partners has naturally evolved into an agency focused on socially conscious businesses and nonprofits. "If you follow your passion into a career, then great things are going to come of that," she advises young change-makers. "There is always a way to use that work to make the world a better place."
Monetti’s greatest skill may rest in taking the simplest concept and allowing it to multiply. Her guiding principle is always, how can marketing help solve an organization’s challenges. "How far can we push this idea," she says. "How many ways can we layer it and really turn it into something dynamic and engaging."
Monetti also hopes to keep the conversation about generosity going with the next generation. Talk About Giving, a program developed by the Central Carolina Community Foundation, encourages multi-generational discussions about philanthropy and values. As a centerpiece to the campaign, Riggs Partners developed the Talk About Giving game—a set of conversation starter cards—as well as a blog and marketing campaign. Some game questions include: "If you had $10 and you had to give it away, to whom would you give it?" and "Name one way you are willing to help a friend or neighbor this week."
Monetti is especially proud of the fact that she has had such a tremendous impact from the relatively small market of South Carolina. "Great ideas can happen anywhere," she says. "You just have to believe. You have to let it grow and you have to nurture it. And you have to be willing to share your great idea.