Danny is Here

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Who’s Danny?  If you’re one of the 1.7 million people currently residing in the Austin, TX metropolitan area, chances are you may have seen him.  But he’s not a celebrity or a public figure.  You probably wouldn’t even recognize him if he walked up to you.  In fact, you may even pretend he doesn’t exist or give him money to leave you alone.  Danny and his disabled wife, Maggie, are one of the estimated 3.5 million homeless persons living in the United States.Unable to find a job as an ironworker, they had no other choice but to set up a tent in North Austin and panhandle just to survive.

Their story is not an uncommon one, yet it’s one that few people are willing to recognize.  That’s where nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) comes in.  Looking to raise the visibility for homelessness and empower people to help, MLF launched its I Am Here campaign on April 27th by physically putting Danny on an I-35 billboard for a couple hours at a time over a 2-day period under the declaration “I Am Here,” and encouraging people to text in to donate $10.  Just 1,200 texts will get Danny and Maggie into their own mobile home and hopefully on their way to a better life.

What I particularly love about this campaign is the unique way it successfully integrates traditional marketing with nontraditional marketing.  While a billboard is a great way to get the attention of commuters, it’s not very common to have the actual subject of your cause as part of one.  It’s hard to ignore someone when they have a 100’-wide sign behind them!  By sharing one person’s story, it reaches an audience on a more personal level and inspires them to give; and incorporating the mobile marketing aspect reduces to practically nothing the time it takes for the initial impression to influence action.  As soon as people see Danny, they see how they can help with a quick 10-second text (I’ll save the debate over the safety of texting while driving for the lawmakers).

Texting donations via keyword to a specific short code is rapidly becoming the go-to method of nonprofits to raise money as a very high majority of Americans own cell phones.  Text donations to the Red Cross have raised over $30 million (over 10% of all funds raised, and the most ever for mobile donations) for Haiti earthquake relief so far.  What makes this number even more impressive is that, like the I Am Here campaign, a single text typically donates $5 or $10.  By having the power to donate literally right at your fingertips, it streamlines the process for collecting money and allows nonprofits to utilize mobile technology to create social impact.  Donors love it for the simplicity and ease to donate to a worthwhile cause from anywhere with cell phone reception.  Of course, you should always research first before texting your money away.

Already, the I Am Here campaign has garnered tons of press in the two days since the launch.  Everywhere from The Huffington Post to CNN (to this blog, of course) has been talking about Danny becoming the face of homelessness.   It’s also taken off on Twitter and Facebook.  Today, it was announced MLF has raised enough money to buy Danny & Maggie a home.  Donations are still needed to help others, so if you’d like to donate $10, text “Danny” to 20222.