Pictured: Damon Jones and Darah Bishop.
The AAF DC Foundation recruited area colleges for CREATE, a student advertising competition, March 9, 2019. Throughout this one-day event, the students split into teams and worked their socks off to develop and present a marcom pitch designed to help local nonprofit S.O.C.K.S (So Other Can Keep Striding) reach new heights. The winners were from University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
S.O.C.K.S raises funds, performs outreach and collects donations to provide socks and other necessities to individuals experiencing homelessness. During the CREATE event, AAF DC sat down with S.O.C.K.S’ Damon Jones (Founder and Chief Giver) and Darah Bishop to hear more about the nonprofit’s work, and how the CREATE competition equipped them with powerful new ideas to grow their organization through marketing and communications.
Pictured: All participants, mentors and judges from the 2019 CREATE event.
Tell us about the “why” of S.O.C.K.S What is your mission?
The more we get into this—the more we understand the “why.”
The mission is currently to demonstrate love. We model our approach after Christ’s approach. Christ wasn’t too big to wash people’s feet. He met the physical needs of the people and then demonstrated love. We are doing the same with S.O.C.K.S (and socks) … we are meeting the immediate, physical need of people experiencing homelessness—and also showing them love, compassion, humanity.
We look at providing socks as overcoming a basic barrier that allows us to support individuals on a deeper and more personal level. We want to get to the point where we are giving handouts and hand ups. We want to position people for success in the long term. That might entail workforce development training. That might entail mental health services. The overall goal is not to end homelessness, but to combat the larger cycle of poverty.
That being said, there is something really special about helping people take care of their feet. Your feet are your foundation. They are your base, your platform. If you have healthy feet, it resonates with your whole body. This is especially important for individuals experiencing homelessness, who rely so much on walking to conduct their daily business.
Talk to us about the relationship you’ve been building with AAF DC, how did it come about.
In 2016, I made a presentation for the Ad 2 DC public service campaign. They liked us, but it didn’t work out. [AAF DC Foundation Chair] Judy Markoe had seen the presentation and reached out, inviting us to join AAF DC at that year’s ONE Holiday Party. Since then we’ve been in lockstep with the club. Judy makes room for us every year at the ONE Party—and for the past couple of years, we’ve collected large piles of donated socks at AAF DC events.
If the relationship with Judy came at the cost of losing the Ad 2 DC public service campaign in 2016, then I’m so happy it didn’t work out! AAF DC has become a gateway to helping us meet amazing people and be part of amazing events.
You gave a great opening story and “pitch”—what are you looking for from the students’ pitches?
I try to do my best to have no preconceived notions or constructs. My primary objective in pitching was to be as clear as possible about who we are, what we’re about and where we want to go.
In terms of what I’m looking for as a judge … I’ll be looking for campaigns that speak to our primary avatar or persona for S.O.C.K.S I’m going to be looking for which campaigns meet us where we are, and will stretch us to get where we want to go.
In addition to the initial presentation, I spent 20-30 minutes with each group answering questions. I’m hoping that engagement will help generate something that’s really targeted toward where we want to go.
Honestly, I wasn’t at all concerned with the caliber of students coming—I just wanted to make sure my part was up to par!
Pictured: Mentors and students at the 2019 CREATE event.
Are there any questions they’ve asked or ideas they’ve shared so far that have stuck with you?
I wasn’t expecting to get questions about supply chain management! That was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting to get questions about my business plan. It was even better that I had answers!
One student brought up a thought-provoking suggestion about incorporating the biographies of the people we support into our outreach; like showing them as more than homeless individuals—sharing what makes the human. Another student reminded us that our service and on-the-ground outreach is what truly makes our organization special. That was a great reminder. We are providing a platform for our followers to get in touch and—even physically—be in contact with the client.
Overall, I’ve learned about the power of marketing … capturing the needs of the end-user and being able to make the connections of the story, service and the people who are being served.
I’ve learned that in order to create a marketing plan that is truly effective you need to really know the most minute aspects of the client organization. We were so excited about this event, because we know the way these students are processing the challenge is at a deeper level and through a different lens (e.g., supply chain management, communications)—and that their expertise and the way they’re thinking will impact what they hand us back: hopefully, a strategy for growth.
What are your main channels of outreach and engagement?
If you want to learn more or get involved, find/join the S.O.C.K.S Movement online: our main channels are Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We also have LinkedIn and a YouTube page too… those are our main platforms. And in terms of engaging people with our brand avatar, the “S.O.C.K.S Box Drive” is number one.
Word of mouth is still a huge part of how people find out about us, and get involved. People will call me up and say “I want to do outreach.” And luckily we have the setup to allow people to also help/give in that way. People want to feel comfortable when they’re out there … that’s what prevents a lot of people from doing outreach. So to have someone who can show them the ropes really helps—and not have that be a barrier to volunteering or getting involved is great too.
How can individuals who want to support S.O.C.K.S get involved?
They can make a monetary donation. They can host a “S.O.C.K.S Box Drive.” Or they can volunteer to do street outreach. And of course they can just share the news about we’re doing on social media (channels listed above).
To learn more about S.O.C.K.S, the impact this grassroots organization is having on communities and people in the DMV, and what’s next for them, please visit: http://www.socksmovement.org/
Special thanks to our event host, MakeOffices at the Wharf, for opening their space to us for the day! CREATE 2019 was a wonderful display of DC communicators and organizations coming together to empower students and further an awesome cause. Stay tuned for future AAF DC Foundation announcements—and information about next year’s CREATE competition.