Drive To Create, a non-profit group of professionals who donate their artistic skills to various organizations, started out as a retirement plan.
"Right after I graduated college in 2009, I started thinking about what I'd do in retirement, which is kind of ridiculous, because it was literally the start of my career," said Aaron Kaufman of Cleveland, president of Drive To Create. "I fantasized about traveling around the country for months at a time offering pro bono work to non-profits in exchange for food and housing."
It took a relative's illness to solidify his idea.
Photos special to the Tribune Chronicle / Sarah Bokone
Aaron Kaufman introduces himself to Javier, the boy who is the inspiration for the non-profit organization Hope for Javier. Javier has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
"Fast forward to 2011, my grandmother was in the hospital, not doing too well, and I was visiting her a few times a week," he said. "During one of the nights when I was driving home from the hospital, I started thinking about my own mortality. I did some self-reflecting and asked myself: If I were to suddenly die tomorrow, what was my impact? How have I bettered society? The answer for most people is probably the same. It was then that I started connecting the dots."
In March 2012, Drive To Create launched officially. For Drive To Create, it's about donating hours of time to various organizations to help with marketing.
"What I've noticed is that an organization may have the money to hire a marketing person, but they wouldn't know how to utilize them or even what to look for in a candidate," Kaufman said. "We provide tangible marketing tools, typically in the form of a campaign so that all of our pieces work together to form a targeted message, to non-profits in single-day creative marathons.
"We are a group of incredibly talented people showing up at organizations and proving that donating skills, versus money, can sometimes be a much more powerful investment for the receiving non-profit. People are so quick to throw money at a problem instead of finding the root of the issue," Kaufman said. "I had this graphic design skill set that not everyone had. How could I use it to help others? I decided on one week every year where I help non-profits through this trip. It would be an event. I immediately called a handful of my friends and pitched the idea. No one hesitated and the answer was always the same: 'I'm in.'"
Warren resident Sarah Bokone was one of those friends who jumped on board with Kaufman's idea.
"I was pretty much sold within the first two minutes," she said. "It's not often, if ever, that I turn down any of Aaron's ideas. I don't think we even had our Drive to Create name yet, it was just this idea of using our talents to help people. I guess I've never thought about the fact that many non-profits don't have the money to afford great marketing materials ... Here are these amazing people trying to help change and save lives, yet they don't have everything they need to let people know they're out there. If we have the ability to help, why not do it?"
The idea quickly grew from a once-a-year event into a full-time, year-round organization. Kaufman said that since they began, Drive To Create has assisted nine non-profits and has donated $100,000 in creative services. The organizations include a place that provides therapy for those going through cancer, a non-profit organization to aid families who have a child in the NICU, and a facility that trains therapy dogs.
"One that stood out is Hope for Javier," Kaufman said. "It was started by a mom who has a son with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which is a disease that has a 100 percent fatality rate and attacks boys. Jennifer Portnoy, the mother of a boy with this disease, started Hope For Javier to raise awareness and dollars, as it's a race against time for her son. Meeting her, Javier, and the family, was an incredibly emotional experience for all of us."
Jennifer Portnoy, of East Setauket, N.Y., founded Hope For Javier a little over five years ago to help her son to live a healthy life.
"I started out as just a parent on a life-saving mission and burning the midnight oil, scouring the Internet to learn as much as I could about the disease, while also developing a strategic approach and meaningful relationships with researchers and medical professionals," Portnoy said. "Our mission is simple and crucial and we have never wavered from it from the day we started. It is to change the outcome for boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and to improve the health care quality of life."
Portnoy said that Drive To Create has helped Hope For Javier define their goals and plans.
"They also helped us understand and start work toward tailoring our campaigns to target the very different demographics that currently support our cause, as well as ways to engage new supporters," she said. "Then, they took what was not even a seed of an idea I had for a video ? and they expanded on it and just ran with it full tilt, creating a social media campaign, as well as supporting materials (booklet, downloadables, websites, videos, campaign related merchandise). All of these items are currently in production (revamped website, booklet, merchandise) and will be rolled out at the start of the new year."
"We were able to harness that emotion and leave them with two campaigns comprised of two videos, a shirt design, bracelet design, two brochure designs, copywriting for all of the materials, photos for marketing, the start of a face-lifted website to house the campaigns and marketing consulting," Kaufman said. "This package is pretty standard for us when we assist organizations."
"Before, we just kind of sent stuff out into the world the second it was ready, without giving much thought to the schedules of our target audiences," Portnoy said. "We were just so excited to have something to share, it didn't matter to us that people might be distracted at the moment. Drive to Create made clear the importance of creating a schedule for various forms of outreach (social media, newsletter mailing, appeals, launching campaigns). They helped us stop and think about making the biggest impact possible with every move we make."
As Drive To Create's photographer, Bokone said that she feels fortunate to be a part of the organization. For Bokone, the experience meeting people and witnessing their services while photographing the moments are fulfilling.
"During what we call Drive Days, it is my job to document the day, as well as provide photographs for specific marketing materials such as brochures, web sites, posters, etc.," she said. "I usually have the opportunity to chat with volunteers and clients one-on-one and hear their stories. I become very emotionally involved, which absolutely helps me capture what I need to get. When I work, it's not just about snapping the perfect photo to fit with copy and colors, it's about telling a story."
Kaufman said that Drive To Create has great plans for the future.
"We want to create teams across the country so that we can assist organizations quicker," Kaufman said. "We're also rebuilding our website and will be providing a resources section where non-profits will eventually find podcasts, e-books and other materials to better their marketing experience.
"It's been an incredible journey up to this point. I'm continuously in awe of the people I'm surrounded by, whether they're our volunteers or clients," he said. "You can't help but regain your faith in humanity when you volunteer with Drive To Create."