Nancy Riley’s IBM colleagues might affectionately call her “the crazy cat lady,” but for the record, this communications manager says just three felines are permanent residents in her home near Atlanta, Georgia. “I often foster kittens and cats,” says Nancy. “Since I work from home, many conference calls begin with the question, ‘How many cats are in your house today, Nancy?’”
Since 2006, Nancy has helped fellow cat lovers find their perfect four-legged mate. She volunteers for Good Mews, a no-kill shelter and adoption organization in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta. Georgia is overpopulated with cats, so municipal and county shelters lack the resources to care for the animals long-term. As a result, healthy animals are regularly euthanized. Nancy noticed Good Mews when she drove past and saw cats in the windows.
“Once I found out that Good Mews cares for cats until they can be adopted into loving homes, I knew I wanted to volunteer,” says Nancy.
First, Nancy started on clean and feed duty. She progressed to the meds committee, where volunteers administer medications to the cats who need them, fostered kittens, and joined the board of directors in 2010. These days, she also chairs the marketing committee, putting her career expertise to great use. At IBM, Nancy oversees communications and public relations for mergers and acquisitions, taking the lead on internal and external communications when IBM acquires a company or sells a segment of the company.
When Good Mews moved into its current 5,500 square foot home in October 2015, the marketing committee wanted to offer fun, creative programs to attract potential adopters and donors to the new space. With Nancy’s help, the board used an IBM activity kit, the Basics of Marketing, to help plan for the transition. The organization hosted Meows & Meowmosas, a Sunday brunch with the cats. They threw a kitten shower, hosted an author signing, and launched a reading program where kids could read aloud to the cats. But no event matched the widespread publicity garnered by yoga with cats. With instruction led by a volunteer yoga teacher, visitors rolled out their mats to practice alongside the shelter’s roaming (yes, cage-free) cats.
With her PR cap on, Nancy pitched a story about the class to Creative Loafing, metro Atlanta’s alt-weekly, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Both publications ran stories about the class, bringing feel-good exposure to the organization and cats in need of homes. Cable news giant CNN followed up by filming a short segment and the video went viral. Soon after, Nancy and her fellow committee members heard from The Weather Channel, People.com, Good Housekeeping, Mic, and other outlets. For Nancy, the attention meant a likelihood that more cats would find a safe, caring home. “The more people who know about Good Mews and its mission, the more adopters we'll attract, and the more cats we'll save,” she says.
Service sets new record
In 2016, Good Mews coordinated the adoption of 420 cats — that’s the organization’s most successful adoption year since its founding in 1988. There’s little doubt that the marketing committee’s creative marketing and public relations efforts helped push Good Mews into its record year. The team understood that showing the cat’s playfulness was the best way to raise the public’s awareness and increase engagement with the organization, especially considering the nonprofit had no marketing funds available.
“I've learned a lot about maximizing social media channels and word-of-mouth awareness,” Nancy says. “Lots of the same principals apply when talking about an acquisition to employees and the public. It's always important to understand how best to position a story and make it available to many channels.”
Thanks to Nancy’s volunteer commitment, Good Mews was awarded a community grant of $2,000 in 2016. And her work in the nonprofit world has helped broaden her point of view in for-profit marketing, too. “We are so fortunate to work for a company that believes in and supports community involvement,” she says. She hopes that any IBMer considering a volunteer opportunity will take the steps to get involved.
“When I tell newly-acquired employees about IBM's commitment to volunteer service,” Nancy says, “they are so impressed and proud to be a part of company that supports volunteerism.”
The expertise that an IBM employee brings to their job can easily make a world of difference for a nonprofit organization. Just ask those 420 cats.
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