Officials with Springfield’s Harmony House have their sights set on taking their iCare campaign to the national stage.
The campaign, which is held each October in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, has grown every year since its inception in 2015, said Lisa Farmer, Harmony House executive director. The independent domestic violence shelter started iCare as a way to raise funds and spread awareness of the issue.
“When we developed iCare, we thought it could be maybe a $100,000 a year event,” Farmer said, noting the 2018 campaign had 576 businesses participate by wearing stickers signifying a black eye in the fight against domestic violence and sharing on social media.
Nearly $260,000 was raised last year, she said.
“We were blown away,” Farmer said. “The awareness grows by leaps and bounds every year, as well.”
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Data from the coalition indicate every nine seconds a woman is beaten in the United States.
Locally, Springfield Police Department statistics indicated 2,902 reported domestic assaults in 2017 – a 12 percent increase over the last five years.
Aside from being the largest yet in participation and funds raised, last year’s iCare also had the distinction of including participants outside the state, as Harmony House began a beta test for a national campaign, Farmer said.
Nonprofit organizations in three communities – Family Sunshine Center in Montgomery, Alabama; Albion Fellows Bacon Center in Evansville, Indiana; and Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins, Colorado – were selected in April 2018 for the beta test. None is affiliated with Harmony House, which initiated contact with the organizations.
They were chosen from roughly 25 shelters, Farmer said, with Harmony House officials targeting communities similar in size and demographics of Springfield. The shelters also were reviewed to determine if leadership and volunteers were strong enough to pull off the campaign.
“We couldn’t do it for them remotely,” Farmer said. “We provided them with the tools and training and some hand holding, but they had to do it.”
Jennifer Hartley, public affairs and development associate with Family Sunshine Center, said staff at the Alabama shelter participated in a webinar with Harmony House and immediately became impressed with the campaign.
“We were really, really excited about the awareness part,” Hartley said, noting the nonprofit got on board in the summer and set out to recruit businesses.
She said 62 businesses took part, utilizing social media and billboards to get the word out. Hartley said Family Sunshine Center netted 192 donations leading to $43,000 raised.
“We felt like we were very successful for our first year,” she said. “We had hoped to raise more, of course, but we weren’t disappointed because of the awareness it raised.”
By comparison, the iCare campaign’s first year in Springfield had 220 participating businesses, raising around $58,000.
Making an investment
Hard costs amounted to nearly 10 percent of gross revenue in iCare’s first year, equating to about $6,000 in expenses for Harmony House, Farmer said.
“Now, it’s less than one-half of a percent, which is phenomenal,” she added, noting fundraising has increased every year.
There are some print costs in the kits assembled and distributed to businesses, which include posters, window clings, flyers and stickers. However, Farmer said flyers are printed free of cost by CoxHealth as part of its sponsorship role.
In addition, a team of volunteers helps every year to solicit business participation.
“That’s where the work comes in, recruiting the businesses and then getting the kits to them,” Farmer said.
One of those businesses last year was Springfield Business Journal, which served as a media sponsor for the campaign.
SBJ Publisher Jennifer Jackson said it was the publication’s first year to participate, but it won’t be the last. She’s already committed to be involved in 2019.
“It’s really a unique concept,” she said, adding she wants to see the impact of iCare nationally. “I think it’s primed for success.”
In the beta tests, the out-of-state shelters agreed to invest $3,250 apiece on campaign costs – a lower rate than what Harmony House spends. Local officials had decided to cover the balance in the beta, but an anonymous donation paid for the remainder.
The social media aspect is a vital part of the campaign, said Jackie Langdon, Harmony House’s marketing and communications director.
“Certainly, as the event has grown, social media has really become more important to it,” she said, noting last year’s iCare Day on Oct. 26 resulted in 63 new followers for Harmony House on Facebook. “That first year, that’s how the word got out.”
The campaign uses hashtags of #icare and #askmewhyicare on social media.
Harmony House staff realized after iCare’s second year that the campaign might be worth exploring beyond the Springfield area. After growth in the third year, Langdon said Harmony House staff kept hearing from locals who thought it already was a national campaign.
“That really sowed that seed,” she said.
Gauging the results
Farmer said the shelters in Indiana and Alabama performed well enough to sign on for a second year of beta testing. However, the Colorado shelter underwent personnel changes within a month of signing on, losing both its executive director and development director.
“They were in severe flux,” Farmer said, noting the new executive director didn’t back the campaign enough for it to make an impact.
This year’s beta test could be expanding, Farmer said, as Harmony House is talking with other agencies about the campaign.
“We’re still just kind of tip-toeing into it,” she said. “Then we’ll probably make a decision – do we really go for it? Do we hire someone to manage iCare? We’re still just dipping our toe in the water.”
Still, Farmer said Harmony House has big expectations for iCare as an eventual huge national awareness event.
“We feel like it has created so much awareness in Springfield,” she said. “The way our community is so much more engaged with the topic of domestic violence over the last four years is night and day.
“This could be something that could really help other communities and also be a revenue generator for Harmony House.”
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