Help Save an Institution In Crisis

This nonprofit organization provides residential and vocational services to more than 600 intellectually and developmentally disabled adults in Houston. About 200 live on its main campus, which was developed on city-owned land under a services-in-lieu-of-rent lease.

The Challenge

  • In the midst of a red-hot redevelopment boom, the city refused to renew one lease and claimed the other was invalid, leaving The Center's survival untenable. FrogDog developed communication strategies to support The Center's goal of continuing to offer its clients the same or improved services.
  • As The Center's board mulled the strategic options FrogDog presented, a client's parent independently sparked a media frenzy by lamenting the predicament in a letter to the Houston Chronicle. The spectre of 200 clients losing their home generated overwhelming interest. FrogDog quickly implemented a crisis communications plan aimed at maximizing favorable exposure for The Center while keeping public discourse positive and avoiding polarization.

FrogDog Solution

  • Faced with an inevitable newspaper story, FrogDog developed positive, sympathetic messaging, coached Center spokespeople, and arranged on-site interviews.
  • FrogDog managed a flurry of subsequent news stories and specifically targeted an influential political blog.
  • The Center organized a rally and packed a City Council meeting. At FrogDog's advice and coaching, the people who spoke kept the discourse positive. Key city council members voiced support for The Center.
  • The mayor eventually agreed to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution. FrogDog used the positive relationships it had cultivated with key city staff members to refine messaging and plan a joint press conference announcing a preliminary agreement to sell the land to The Center.
  • With a favorable resolution imminent, FrogDog advised Center supporters to halt the media push and to publicly thank the city and mayor for their willingness to negotiate.

The Results

  • The Center signed an agreement to purchase the land for $6 million over 15 years with city financing. This represents a savings of approximately $20 million compared to the land's estimated commercial market value of up to $26 million.
  • Enrollment in The Center's vocational training and activity programs rose 7 percent in the following months.
  • The Center collected twice as much in small-to-medium charitable donations during in the first six months after the campaign as it had in the entire prior calendar year.
  • Three prestigious law firms donated at least 200 hours of legal services in response to news coverage.
  • The Center collected more than 12,500 signatures through an on-line petition over a three-week period.
  • In addition to its own editorial, the Chronicle published a Sunday opinion section featuring three letters to the editor and an op-ed supporting The Center, along with an op-ed by the mayor explaining his position and urging citizens to support The Center financially. In total, the Chronicle printed 13 unsolicited letters supporting The Center.
  • Overall, the campaign garnered 20.2 million estimated media impressions, including 90 minutes of broadcast coverage and several follow up print and blog stories.
  • The Center's enhanced public profile opened the door to exciting new growth opportunities, including establishing group homes to serve a growing client population.
  • The Center hired an executive director to maximize fundraising opportunities and formed a committee to determine the best ways to further expand and enhance services
  • FrogDog used the media momentum to draw attention to the vocational program's 50th anniversary and to pitch stories about Gingersnaps Etc., a volunteer group that supports The Center through large-scale baked goods sales.

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