The May 50K is a community-building fundraiser which turbocharges local scientific research discoveries to help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) live longer and more active lives.
That’s only one reason I’ve volunteered Cube’s strategic communications and media advice to The May 50K and Kiss Goodbye to MS since 2014.
The powerful message The May 50K sends to those with MS who may have been isolated during COVID lockdowns is that it’s time to walk, run or cycle at least 50km over the month of May to raise awareness, money and your wellbeing.
The more personal reason for doing the work with MS Research Australia on a pro bono basis is that my best friend Helen lives with multiple sclerosis, as does Helen’s younger sister.
Helen was my best friend at university and her mother had MS, so it was not only a terrible shock for Helen to be diagnosed with the same disease but as a scientist and communicator I wanted to do more.
I was interested in exploring more about how to slow down the progression of the disease and read the MS research around why it might run in families.
The power of purpose and corporate social responsibility
Pro bono work can be challenging for small specialist agencies like Cube to manage, but it enables teams to rally around causes and communications for the greater good.
The very best businesses should live their purpose and values by committing time, money and resources. The May 50K gives the team a true sense of who we are as a business – as well as who I am as a friend and communicator – while giving back to the community we work with.
Agencies that do pro bono work highlight their creative strengths and skills, but they need to remain firmly committed to the one cause – regardless of how many other charities might be higher profile or more interesting.
Corporate social responsibility is about more than showcasing the quality of our work. When personal values are activated, our emotions engage, binding our team together as humans first and professionals second.
Unpaid communications work can be a burden for small teams but from my experiences, this is what I’ve found works:
USE PRO BONO WORK TO UNLOCK COMMON PURPOSE: Finding the right pro bono partner is like a marriage – both parties must commit and have common goals. Some communications professionals donate their skills and absorb out-of-pocket costs such as photography and media distribution while others may choose to pass on small costs if they cannot afford to absorb them. It’s always great to have a clear agreement in place, to give each partner certainty and allow the partnership to truly flourish year in and year out.
COMMIT FOR THE LONG TERM: Don’t swap and change pro bono clients each year – the value comes from the work you can achieve over time. Building relationships with the charity team year on year enables both the communications agency and the charity to create brand equity and meaningful relationships with partners like the media and other volunteers.
GO ABOVE AND BEYOND TO PUSH CREATIVE BOUNDARIES: Pro bono work allows teams to explore strategies and ideas that paying clients might not be quite ready to commit to. Tracking new methods and ideas with reporting and debriefing sessions is also powerful to upskill other staff and bring new campaign ideas to an agency’s repertoire and service offering.
USE NOT-FOR-PROFIT WORK TO BUILDS TEAMS POST-COVID: Being able to experiment and unleash creativity through pro bono work is great for team-building, especially now that many teams don’t always work together face-to-face. Use the work as an opportunity to develop staff and train them in their areas of interest.
This has been the case at Cube, where the team has rallied to support The May50K for the last eight years, helping MS Research Australia morph its biggest fundraiser into a virtual activity challenge that raises millions each year. And the bigger bonus? The May50K activity helps those communities living with MS manage their stress and disease progression better than ever before.
Making scientific research come to life in the media
“The people that participate in The May50K are so inspiring,” says our Cube account executive Rosie Southcott.
“When you hear the stories, especially those from the MS community, that’s when it’s really rewarding.”
The Cube team works from the start of each year to support The May 50K, garnering media stories that focus on personal experiences to inspire awareness that people don’t ‘suffer’ from MS but live with it and manage it – thanks to the groundbreaking research uncovering evidence on slowing progression of MS.
The media stories Cube have helped generate include 28-year-old teacher Elise Osmand’s story of waking up on a dream holiday in Europe unable to see, only to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in a Greek hospital.
Elise now uses her social media profiles to promote MS Motion to educate young people about the power of exercise, nutrition and managing stress for brain and nervous system health.
“Post-Covid has been hard for the MS community, who have not been able to get out of the house and stay as active as they normally would,” Rosie says.
Shavaughn Baynton’s story is another that Cube garnered media attention for, showing how Shavaughn’s weight loss and gym routine has helped manage her multiple sclerosis.
Strategically, it’s critical to find the human story to communicate health and science issues in the media – it connects with people and does so much more than a media release or report can achieve.
Creating culture post-Covid through pro bono work
Every week, 10 Australians are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and three quarters are aged between 20 and 40. Three times as many women have MS than men and the latest scientific research suggests exercise may help manage symptoms.
After the disruption of COVID last year, The May50K is a chance for all of us to engage around something outside of work.
Our Cube team work in a CBD office but also work from home as they juggle the post-pandemic corporate work life. It’s so important for us to see each other face to face and exchange ideas and talk to each other about things other than client work.
Pro bono work has that personal, values-driven edge to it that drives better engagement with the team. Every Friday during May 2021, the Cube team have been lapping Sydney’s Centennial Park to reach their collective team target of 1400km and raising $1000.
If you want to attract and retain talent while achieving greater results and impact, then the right pro bono work can do that for an agency.
It might also be about having more fun at work – no-one seems to say ‘no’ to a Friday afternoon walk around the park!