Mamas Day: Recognizing a Profound Act of Community

How investing in technology, using online platforms and tracking metrics allows the true heart of the campaign to shine through.

Interview with the Eveline Shen, Executive Director, Forward Together on how their partnership with artists helps to shift culture through a “Hallmark” holiday

Tell us about the Mamas Day campaign - what is the core message behind this project?

For the past 4 years, Forward Together has led an online Mamas Day campaign with our partners in Strong Families, a national network of over 125 organizations and thousands of individuals changing policy and culture so that all families can thrive. Strong Families is staffed and led by Forward Together.

Through our Mamas Day campaigns, we leverage a national “Hallmark” holiday to build a new story – one that explodes a culturally narrow, white, straight and middle class narrative with stories and images by and for the mamas in our lives who are not traditionally honored or recognized: young mamas, immigrant mamas, mamas of color, low-income mamas, and queer and transgender mamas.

Our goal is to shift culture by replacing the idea that mamas need to change, with the reality that the system needs to change. We are lifting up mamahood as a profound act of community. So we want to celebrate the many ways that mamas “lean on” their networks of support and build momentum for policies that create the conditions for all mamas to thrive.

To advance this culture shift strategy, Forward Together has worked with more than 20 artists in the past two years to create original, customizable e-cards to celebrate loved ones. In addition to the cards, our Mamas Day campaign includes digital strategies to disseminate Mamas Day memes, individual stories and experiences of “mamahood” on our blog, media placement of Op-Eds and articles, and collaboration with policy advocacy groups to use the images and memes to further policy shift campaigns.

Facts & figures: 

  • Project budget: $25,000
  • Number of full time staff members: 16
  • Number of artist partnerships: 20
  • Number of organizational partnerships: 81
  • Number of e-cards created (2013-14): 6,000
  • Facebook reach (2013-14): 425,000

Who are the target audiences for the project, and why did you use the e-cards, images and memes as the format for communication and engagement?

For Mamas Day, we have two main audiences. The first is the Strong Families network of individuals and organizations that participate in Mamas Day through e-cards, social media and blogs. In doing so, they connect not only with the campaign itself but also with their family and community networks. Our second audience is broadly defined – i.e. potential individual and organizations would be supporting us if they knew we were here. Mamas Day has been our most successful outreach tool for three years running.

At the center of this project is the artwork – how is it selected? How do the artists play a role in the project?

We are committed to recognizing artists as critical actors in creating meaningful social change. As a result, we pay for the art and we respect the vision and skills of the artists we work with. We have built relationships with artists whose work aligns with the values of Strong Families. As we develop our themes for Mamas Day, we convey these to the artists and in turn, the artwork they create influences our final campaign messages and memes. To support our communication with artists on both the content and the technical aspects of the project, we contract with Micah Bazant as our designer and art director. He is the primary designer of Forward Together’s collateral as well as a Mamas Day artist himself.

How do you track impact each year when your targets keep shifting?

We set goals that measure both breadth and depth of engagement. While we value quantitative data such as our social media reach, media circulation, number of e-cards created, the growth of our list – we also assess the ways in which the culture shift collateral that is created for Mamas Day is utilized by individuals and organizations to lift up their own stories, to celebrate their chosen families, and to articulate the policy changes that are required for mamas to thrive. In 2014, 81 organizations utilized the cards in some way to raise the visibility of the issues they work on – from immigrant rights, to health care access, to LGBT equality. Setting these types of goals ensures that we are not only building Strong Families, but that we are supporting the overall movement for social change at the same time.

What technology tools are you using to run this campaign?

The custom PHP/MySQL website was built for Forward Together by Radical Designs and is the primary tech vehicle supporting the campaign. We drive traffic to this site by using a range of digital platforms (Facebook, Twitter, eblasts) as well as through earned media.

Looking at the past two campaigns, what are some lessons learned (good and bad) that’ll be integrated in next year’s campaign?

Over the past two years, Forward Together has learned a lot about the trade-offs between utilizing various online tactics. In 2013, we noticed that we had a significant gap between the number of unique visitors to the site and the number of cards made. We determined a couple of reasons for this including: a high percentage of visitors in 2013 were accessing the site through mobile devises – yet, the website was not mobile friendly; and, creating e-cards took multiple steps so we were likely losing some people in the process. So in 2014 we made the site mobile friendly and added a point and click feature for sharing e-cards with pre-determined memes that drastically reduced the number of actions that visitors needed to take. These decisions clearly increased the overall reach of the campaign – but decreased our ability to build our list as visitors were not required to provide an email or other contact information. This will be a major decision point in terms of our tactics for future online campaigns.

What is a key piece of advice that you’d share with nonprofits that might be interested in a holiday e-card campaign?

It is critical to invest in the technology that is necessary to allow the true heart of the campaign to shine through. For Forward Together, the true heart is art and stories. Our communities are hungry for beautiful and vibrant art that communicates the beauty and strength of our lives and relationships, and the creative and resilient diversity of our families. Each year we are deeply moved by the responses to the images we share and the stories we tell during the campaign.

Here is one response to Mamas Day: I adopted my daughter from foster care; I’m the fourth woman she’s called mom. So huge loss—not just love—are always part of our Mother’s Day. But after seeing the incredible images that reflected her life, my daughter brought tears to my eyes when she said, ‘I felt inspired to be myself.’”

First published in NTEN: Change, September 2014, CC BY-SA 3.0