How this Case Study may be relevant to you: This project used creativity to spur community engagement on a capital campaign during a crisis. We developed the brand to launch the project and messaging to build excitement. 

We helped the Autism Nature Trail raise $1.9M in 10 months to complete its public fundraising initiative and pave the way for a Spring 2021 Groundbreaking.

Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

Situational Analysis

The Autism Nature Trail (ANT) at Letchworth State Park is a project that has been in the planning stages for three years.  It is a planned one-mile loop, with eight unique outdoor sensory stations meant to stimulate growth and inclusivity among those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities. Up until January of 2020, the ANT was in a “silent phase” of fundraising - raising $2 million, but quickly ready to launch into the public portion of its capital campaign. The goal was to raise the remaining $1.9 million needed to fund construction and operations of the trail and begin groundbreaking in early 2021.

The Challenge

The Autism Nature Trail faced several challenges as it looked toward a public launch. The first was a branding issue – ANT was the working name for the trail but needed to be solidified for the public launch. In addition, this was a new project with no name recognition or following among the general public and needed to build and grow that awareness to succeed. And, shortly after announcing the public campaign, the ANT faced fundraising challenges within a new climate due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

Objectives

  • Increase awareness of the Autism Nature Trail and Capital Campaign. 
  • Build excitement for the project and emphasize the need for this one-of-a-kind outdoor experience. 
  • Drive the public phase of fundraising efforts through an appeal to a broad donor audience. 
  • Build credibility for the project to assist with securing major gifts from foundations and philanthropists. 

Strategic Insight

At a branding workshop held prior to the public launch, we led a series of exercises to help the committee determine the main purpose of The Autism Nature Trail, “to provide an opportunity for all children and families to explore nature at their own pace by creating a much-needed, positive, and non-threatening experience for individuals living with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, allowing them to be more fully engaged with nature and with each other.”​

Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

Strategies

Strategies:

  • Capitalize on the connection that people have with Letchworth State Park by creating a campaign that engages the public, gets them excited about the project, and mobilizes them to give. 
  • Connect with the autism community and the people that autism and intellectual disabilities impact every day. 
  • Create an interest at the local and regional level by reaching out through public relations efforts, creating alliances with local and regional chambers and service clubs and enlisting the help of local business owners. 
  • Leverage the reach of Letchworth State Park’s preexisting communication channels to connect with current audiences engaged with the park and create interest in the project. 

Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

Key Messages

Our team used the research collected during the branding workshop to solidify the name “Autism Nature Trail” as the official project title, with the following differentiator and overarching key messages: 

  • The Autism Nature Trail (ANT) is a place for all. It welcomes new and repeat visitors to relax, connect, belong, and feel free and allows those who have been touched by autism to find serenity, togetherness and understanding. 
  • The Autism Nature Trail is the first of its kind in the country to be designed and built specifically for children and families living with ASD and other developmental disabilities. Other trails and outdoor experiences have been adapted to serve this audience but not from inception of the trail or experience.

Tactics

  • Local & Regional Public Relations 
  • Digital Marketing
  • Social Media Posting & Management
  • Newsletter Creation & Distribution
  • Website Management
  • In-Person & Virtual Event Planning & Execution
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)
Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

Results

Results

Over the course of 10 months (and amid a global pandemic), The Autism Nature Trail raised $1.9 million dollars – completing its public fundraising initiative and paving the way for a Spring 2021 Groundbreaking! 

 

Photo Credit: Letchworth State Park Autism Nature Trail (ANT)

In addition, the campaign:

  • Held a successful public kick off event and press conference with five local broadcast outlets and several local print outlets in attendance, along with state officials and key donors/organizations.
  • Launched a new Facebook Page for the Trail garnering 2.3k followers organically within just 6 months.
  • Developed and sent 30+ fundraising newsletters to past, current, and potential donors and parties interested in the ANT, with an average 26% open rate.
  • Secured 30+ media stories featuring the ANT project for a total of more than 252,000,000 impressions locally and regionally. 
  • Launched a virtual silent auction with over 225 active participants and $22k raised within one week towards the ANT project. 
  • Held a small in-person event in Letchworth State Park in Fall 2020 with key donors and supporters.