Haley Gustafson loves dogs of all sizes, colors and breeds. So the Ball State senior from Belvidere, Illinois, jumped at a recent chance to use her talents for the betterment of Muncie’s Animal Rescue Fund (ARF).

In what was dubbed CreateAthon, Gustafson and 29 of her classmates from Cardinal Communications, Ball State’s student-run public relations agency, came together for a 24-hour creative blitz providing local nonprofits with advertising, marketing and promotional needs.

This year’s nonprofit partners, ARF’s Paws, Cancer Services of ECI – Little Red Door and YWCA, sought new solutions to further their organizations’ individual missions and goals. In the case of ARF, Gustafson and her team focused on promotional materials for the group’s new low cost spay and neuter clinic “ARF’s Paws.”

Students stand near a large screen and make a presentation

Cardinal Communications, Ball State’s student-run public relations agency, came up with promotional materials for the Animal Rescue Fund’s new low cost spay and neutering clinic, “ARF’s Paws.” Making a presentation are (from left to right) Marley Vawter, Isaac Reynoso and Catherine Burgess.

“I am just a big dog lover, and it wasn’t hard for me to passionate about ARF,” said Gustafson, who is studying public relations and led the ARF team. “At the same time, I’ve always been an advocate for giving back to the community and believe it is important whether you’re a full-time resident or an out-of-state student like myself.”

Ball State was one of two universities nationwide selected by the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) to host the event as part of a pilot partnership with CreateAthon, a national nonprofit whose mission is to champion effective nonprofit marketing through pro bono marathons. Each account team within Cardinal Communications took on a specific nonprofit, and students had a chance to acquire hands-on experience creating work they were sure would be used.

“Participating in CreateAthon provided a new challenging experience for members of Cardinal Communications,” said Deborah Davis, assistant professor of journalism and faculty adviser for the agency. “The compressed timeframe and pressure to complete an entire campaign in 24 hours was similar to what professionals might experience when tight deadlines are needed. There was a sense of urgency that they don’t get in the classroom or with most of the agency’s 25 current clients.”

Developing skills for career, life

The efforts of the Ball State students were an immediate “shot in the arm” for the YWCA, said Kari Wissel, development and marketing director for the organization.

“I do all of our marketing, fundraising and website work so getting an outside perspective is great to keep us moving forward,” Wissel said. “This strategic communications plan would have taken so much time for me to complete and kept me from working on other projects. A lot of nonprofits work on an extremely tight budget so any help at all is impactful. I’m inspired to go back to my office, on a Saturday morning, to get to work on this.”

Maddie McGarvey, ’17, from West Chester, Ohio believes her team’s efforts in creating materials for Cancer Services of ECI – Little Red Door was one way to give back to the community.

Several students sit at a table with their laptop computers

The YWCA Team brainstorms ideas for a strategic communications plan. The team included (from left to right) Asa McCormick, Caroline Owens, Lindsey Sharp and Katie Ronzio.

Simply known as the Little Red Door, the organization’s mission is to reduce the financial and emotional burdens of those dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Staff members promote cancer prevention, early detection and wellness to reduce cancer rates and improve cancer survivorship in the area.

McGarvey’s team curated content to help the organization promote its annual “Kick Cancer” kickball tournament.

“It was easy to work 24 hours straight when you knew your work would help battle cancer,” McGarvey said. “Our team was moved by the idea that all of the resources that local individuals and organizations donate to Little Red Door directly enhances the lives of their neighbors and community members in need.”

Back on the ARF project team, Gustafson said the group developed a social media plan, prepared a strategic media strategy and provided event support and promotions for the grand opening. Team members designed a fact sheet, event poster, infographics and an informational brochure.

“Assisting ARF provided that outlet because the new clinic will be a major benefit to the community,” Gustafson said. “Muncie is now my home. I want to help improve and build the community.”

Davis believes the 24-hour exercise provided students with an incredible learning experience.

“While students were exhausted when it was over, they were also energized by seeing the immediate impact that their work had on the nonprofits,” said Davis. “As the campaigns are being implemented, there is also a tremendous sense of pride in what they accomplished in less than 24 hours.”