Ad agency shifts pro-bono strategy

By Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — After nine years of providing free advertising and public relations services to multiple local nonprofits, French West Vaughan is changing its pro-bono strategy.

For the next seven years, the Raleigh-based agency will put most, if not all, of its philanthropic energies into building and promoting one nonprofit, the Global Water Foundation, created last year by tennis professional Johan Kriek.

“As I looked at how to give back, I thought we needed a global strategy,” says Rick French, president and CEO of French West Vaughan.  “This allows us to work on a global stage, but also create opportunities for people in the Raleigh market.”

Started in Raleigh in 1997, the agency has counted among its pro-bono clients the Interfaith Food Shuttle, Triangle United Way and Interact, all local groups serving local communities.

As French West Vaughan grew, it opened an office in New York City and began serving clients in Africa and Asia, in addition to North America.

“We took a second look at our philanthropic strategy,” says French.  “Just the Triangle wasn’t rounding us out.”

The Global Water Foundation, led by Kriek, a four-time Wimbledon doubles champion, aims to improve health and sanitation worldwide by raising awareness of the need for clean drinking water and providing funds to increase its accessibility.

The son of South African sugar farmers, Kriek says he realized the importance of clean water after returning to South Africa in recent years.

“Thousands of kids die in South Africa every year from polluted water,” he says.  “I have a duty to give something back.”

Kriek has donated “tens of thousands of dollars” of his own money and aims to raise “hundreds of millions of dollars,” although he will not disclose the foundation’s assets.

To raise the money, Global Water plans a series of Live Aid style concerts and events involving big-name stars, eventually holding a concert on each of the world’s seven continents, French says.

The first such event will be held December 10 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, bringing together performers tentatively including Steven Tyler of Arrowsmith and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin to form an all-star rock band.

To date, the foundation has donated $50,000 to provide clean water for a school in Uganda and is considering funding three additional projects.

French West Vaughan’s commitment to Global Water includes advertising, marketing and public-relations support, to date involving 1.5 full-time-equivalent staffers, interns and donations of time from 4 to 5 senior executives.

The agency also is renovating part of its own downtown Raleigh headquarters to house the foundation’s clearing house, which will coordinate volunteers and staff the toll-free lines.

“Our contributions this year alone will run well into the six figures,” French says.  “I would rather see that money go back into program delivery.  Every human should have a right to clean, safe drinking water.”

French, a former member of the professional tennis satellite tour, met Kriek at a Raleigh tennis event in 1988 and the two struck up a friendship.

He agreed to take on the project this spring after concluding other commitments for former pro-bono clients.

“This is the only [pro bono] thing we’re focusing on,” he says.  “This is such a massive program, we couldn’t do the others justice.”

French expects the shift in strategy will ultimately represent an increase in the agency’s overall philanthropic outlay, given the size and complexity of the program.

“In all the charitable work we’ve done, this is the thing I’m most excited about,” he says.  “It has the potential to impact the most people worldwide.”

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