Non-Profit Case Story: Alliance Healthcare Foundation

Alliance Healthcare Foundation (AHF) advances health and welfare for those in need in San Diego and Imperial County, California. Through several types of grants, the foundation awards more than $2 million dollars each year to organizations impacting the health and wellness for the uninsured and underinsured.

ahf-1-sq-72We had recently rebranded the foundation to better represent the grantees funded through its grants: from organizations impacting homelessness to those in the education field, from food banks to non-profits in the technology space. The Executive Director and Program Director of AHF were active in the community, and their posts, pictures and videos from meetings, on-site visits and cause conferences were well received when featured on social networking, content sharing and collaboration sites.

We had a strong foundation to build upon.



We had been working with Alliance for about six months when Executive Director Nancy Sasaki added an initiative to announce the 2012 Mission Support Grant (one of their flagship grants) awardees to our communications plan. After reviewing 80 applicant videos, the Board and Blue Ribbon Panel had selected 16 projects for funding. In total, more than $1,000,000 would be invested in advancing health and wellness within San Diego and Imperial Counties in southern California.

In the past, the foundation had sent letters to awardees congratulating them on their selection. Foundation leaders met recipient leadership during a private luncheon, and thus concluded the interaction. Nancy had been adding up the budgets for this process and was surprised how much had been spent on letters and a lunch. The investment far exceeded her impression of the traditional event and its effectiveness in generating any interest outside of the attendees. 



Nancy had been very active in the community since her appointment and had been very open to re-addressing everything we worked with her on at Alliance. We’d had “fun” with other projects like the re-branding, the stationery system – even live-streaming the Funding Forum event.

“What if we did something fun this year to announce the grantees?”



In thinking about the communication – announcing the awards to the grantees – we thought about the other ways people are notified they have been awarded. “What if we gave them giant checks, like The Publisher’s Clearinghouse?” I always loved the reaction people had to receiving a giant check and thought it could be a step-up from just the letter. Nancy laughed along with us, and in a moment of creativity exceeding reality, she quickly added, “And what if we showed up with cameras just like the Prize Patrol?”

We stopped laughing – we were thinking.

What IF we did?

We continued with “what-ifs” as we drafted what each video would include. Like the Prize Patrol, a camera crew, a giant check and an official representative announcing, “Congratulations, you’ve just won” would surprise recipients! Since the signature on the check came from the Executive Director, we reasoned she should also present the check.

As the presentation unfolds, viewers would expect to see the reaction of the awardees and to hear a few words on what they’re going to do with their grant. Locations for each presentation would likely be their place of operations, providing an opportunity to share a glimpse into the programs themselves, and maybe even the people they serve.

Nancy accepted the challenge and suggested we include Alliance’s newly appointed Program Officer, Sylvia Barron, since each project would be working with her directly. Comparisons to “Kathie Lee and Hoda” continued the laughs but also facilitated discussions on direction and mood of the presentation. We agreed we wanted to have fun with the approach, but we also wanted to be perceived as respectful and professional. We all, of course, would be representing Alliance Healthcare Foundation.



Nancy was getting excited about the idea, but the investment was adding up to be more than a luncheon – how could this investment make sense? How could we create enough ROI to proceed?

Production would require a 16-location shoot. Sixteen “meetings” would have to be scheduled with project leaders to get the right people on camera, and coordinating multiple executives from each organization would be critical. If we could consolidate the 16 shoots to a couple days, maybe we could do it – but what about editing 16 videos?


Identifying The Goals

For the time and dollars, the goal of the video series would have to provide more than just replacing the letter.

  • Announce the award to grantees
  • Capture the award presentations to share with the public
  • Represent the Board and Foundation while demonstrating Alliance “in the community”
  • Educate the public about the issues in the community and how each grantee would be using foundation dollars to make an impact on the people they serve

Once the primary goals of the video series were considered, we looked at secondary goals and identified an even greater return:

  • Attract more qualified applicants for the next year of grant applications.

These videos would demonstrate Alliance in the community long after the announcement period ended. Viewers from the grantee organization, their colleagues  and the people they serve would be introduced on-screen to two key people from the foundation in a positive environment. This would make them more accessible, provide a face and a name to contact and plant a seed of thought about applying for a grant.


Understanding The Audience

With the active AHF social media platform we had developed using Satellite Marketing, we discussed the audiences who would view and, hopefully, share our content: Grantees, applicants, project managers, grant writers, service coordinators, government, media and people in the community. Each audience was represented in the fans, followers and subscribers to one or more of Alliance social media profiles.

We were very familiar with the demographics of the organizations in San Diego working in health and wellness. The foundation had been funding for several years, and the new leadership had been very active at earlier positions at related organizations.

There was a need for a greater understanding of Imperial County since Alliance had not funded as many organizations based there in the past. The two-hour drive through the mountains did very much to divide the region and to limit the information and relationships that had been more easily created in San Diego.

Understanding the psychographics of both audiences seemed to reveal one thing they did have in common: understanding the foundation behind the grant and identifying the right type of funding. In survey results, respondents had identified concerns about not knowing enough about the people behind the foundation*. They were often concerned about the conditions of the grant: what could they do with the money, and what couldn’t they do with the money?


Creating the Strategy

We designed a model in pre-production to minimize how much time we’d need on-site for each award – at least an hour. A cameraman, director and a soundman would provide a professional level of production and support for our inexperienced on-camera talent. A checklist of shots necessary to produce the video would keep things moving quickly and would help our crew stay on schedule.

A simple graphics package would brand the video, help the presentation of on-the-run video, and the lower-thirds could share additional information while adding a sense of production to each video. Underneath it all, an upbeat music bed could add an audio signature to keep it all moving along for the viewer, increasing the length of time they would watch. At the end of each video would be our call to action, “To learn more about our grant applications visit our website.”

The shot opens with the camera wide, showing the organization receiving the grant. On-screen are our hosts, giant check in hand, delivering a lively and likeable, “Hi, I’m Nancy Sasaki, Executive Director of Alliance Healthcare Foundation,” as she and Sylvia announce where they are located, why they are there and how much they are awarding the organization.

  • Goal: Capture the award presentations to share with the public

“Let’s go inside,” initiated the move into the building as we asked to locate the leadership of the new grantee. As the camera made its way down the hall, up the stairs and into the offices and conference rooms where their leaders would be found, we would build a sense of excitement leading up to the moment where we would announce, “Congratulations, you’ve been awarded a grant from Alliance Healthcare Foundation!”

  • Goal: Represent the Board and Foundation while demonstrating Alliance “in the community”

Varying collections of Executive Directors, Program Directors, Board members and volunteers would gather to receive the giant check. With some well-prepared questions, Nancy would facilitate an interview with representatives who could speak to what they do and to how the grant would benefit those they served.

  • Goal: Educate the public about the issues in the community and how each grantee would be using foundation dollars to make an impact on the people they serve

The call to action would be: “to learn more about this organization, visit their grantee profile on our website.” Many of the grantees did not have websites or the ability to present themselves to the public. By developing a consistent grantee profile page on the site, Alliance could present the grantees equally, showcasing the award video and its application video (a requirement of the application) while repurposing information from their application form, like their mission statement, pictures of their facility or programs and contact information (which was often difficult for the public to find).


4: Selecting Social Media

We had developed a social media platform for Alliance as part of the rebranding, including a YouTube channel, a Google+ page, a Twitter profile, a LinkedIn company page, a Pinterest profile and a Facebook fan page.


5: Building Engagement

Each of the social media sites provided different types of engagement opportunities.

Each video was uploaded to a playlist on the Alliance YouTube channel. Each used a common structure in the title which featured the organization’s name and included a description, links and keywords. All subscribers to the channel would be notified of the upload, and visitors would see the new addition upon their review of recent uploads. Each visitor would see a new video featured on the channel.

Links to the YouTube videos were shared with its circles and publicly on Google+, including posts with hyperlinks to the organizations that had pages on Google+. We included hashtags (#health, #wellness, #grants) as applicable to interject our content into larger conversations within existing content streams.

Google+ did not attract a big audience or receive as much engagement as others, but the SEO benefit has always been thought worthwhile in return for repurposing messages, links, hashtags and content.

Twitter also used links, hashtags and a shorter version of the post to manage the 140 characters available. Once the grantee was followed, their handle (@username) created a hyperlink to their account, leading our audience to the grantees in the hopes of building their following. This tactic also notified the grantee that our message had been posted on their behalf for the purpose of initiating a response: those that were actively managing their communications did.

The LinkedIn Company Page was gaining followers, and it represented the foundation in a more traditional business manner. The leaders of the larger health and wellness organizations would see the posts as well.

Pinterest repurposed the still images from the albums with description copy and links to the videos. The demographics of Pinterest (mostly women) made it of particular interest, since a majority of professionals in health and wellness are women.

Our most active audience had been on Facebook, and this trend continued as we uploaded each video directly to the Facebook fan page. Historically, we have seen (and read reports) of greater engagement with videos uploaded directly compared to links to YouTube. According to a report from Social Bakers (O’Reilly, 2014), “Facebook videos were simply ‘more natural’ to share and interact with than YouTube videos. They appear in the news feed, which is a key discovery platform. Discussions in the comments are (for the most part) with your friends rather than strangers. And Facebook also provides a bigger video preview image through the news feed than the small preview boxes you get on YouTube.”

The same post content was repurposed for the other audiences; hashtags and hyperlinks were included as well. Again, the purpose was to message our audience, to engage the grantee and to get in front of their audiences (where posted messages were displayed to the recipient’s audience automatically).

The embed code provided from YouTube for each video would be used to include the video in the grantee profile page on the Alliance web site ( We also included the YouTube video each grantee submitted with their online application. Information from the application, like the mission statement, contact and overview provided a body of text that presented them quite nicely. A picture gallery across the bottom provided still images that continued to tell their story.

Each grant initiated engagement with an organization – a reason for the people from each business to collaborate. The video fueled the engagement by funding the organization, introducing its key leaders to our community and providing our content to them as marketing content (many whom never had such resources).

Leading by example, Alliance would share the content with each organization, providing new content for their growing social media efforts and showcasing examples of how to best present it to their audiences. The on-boarding process would also include “liking,” “following” and “subscribing” to AHF’s social properties to provide ongoing examples of how to use social media.


6: Communications Planning

The COMM Plan™ started by looking at the assets from the investment: 16 three-minute videos demonstrating Alliance’s Executive and Program Directors interacting with our grantees in the community.

One video would be posted each business day, providing 16 days of unique content on the AHF editorial calendar. Shooting in HD, each three-minute video provided high-resolution digital still frames to create grantee-named photo albums for each awarded organization. Behind–the-scenes photos would provide additional insights into the hard work and commitment from Alliance to be in the community.

With each video, the Alliance social media platform was leveraged to share its photos and links to the organization’s social media. Additional posts included links to their websites and their grantee profiles on the AHF site, cumulatively providing thousands of impressions to the local community.

A distributed press release would be the final step in announcing the grantees. With so much traffic on the Alliance website/social media and the scheduled engagement from our 16 new grantees, the media would arrive in the midst of it all.


7: Measuring Performance

Using PRWeb, the press release titled: “Alliance Healthcare Foundation Uses Social Media to Announce 2012 Mission Support Grant Awards” targeted San Diego media. The release received 31,632 impressions over 26 days, resulting in 683 total reads.

  • Goal: Announce the award to grantees

The Facebook fans were up 200 percent, and its social media reach grew each day, nearing 100,000 Facebook impressions in just one week! The YouTube videos have received hundreds of views and were being viewed on smartphones and tablets as much as they were being seen on the website. The LinkedIn company page has received 13 recommendations for its Mission Support Grants, messaging which will be important in encouraging applicants for next year’s process. The following year, an additional 20 grantees provided recommendations for the Mission Support Grants, totaling 33 grantee recommendations.

  • Goal: Attract more qualified applicants for the next year of grant applications.

In testing the process models each year and comparing the performance of each, we have continued to improve the number of applicants for grants year-by-year:

  • Total applicants in 2012: 80
  • Total applicants in 2013: 102
  • Total applicants in 2014: 106
  • Total Applicants in 2015: 114

From the qualitative, we could review any of the 33 recommendations received from grantees. We also look to the recommendation from the Executive Director in reviewing the completed program:

“All I had was an idea of what I wanted to create and [the team] was able to take those thoughts and make it all a reality. Not only that but [the process] brought new ideas and creativity to expand and… built my confidence so I didn’t have to worry along the way. The end result was above and beyond my original idea & expectations. 150% satisfied with the results!” – Nancy Sasaki, Executive Director, Alliance Healthcare Foundation



AHF External Survey Results (2011, March). Alliance Healthcare Foundation.

O’Reilly, L. (2014, December 9). Facebook Video Is Driving YouTube Off Facebook. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from: