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Anti-homelessness nonprofit partners with graduate marketing class to increase awareness

Anti-homelessness nonprofit partners with graduate marketing class to increase awareness

Sherri Ajdini (right), Neli Vasquez-Rowland (center), Michael Anderson, and Amie (Yajuan) Zhu (right).

By Whitney Critten |  Student reporter

This summer, a class project for a social enterprise resulted in creative marketing campaigns to raise awareness of homelessness, and a unique learning opportunity for students.

A Safe Haven, a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of the homeless, tasked students in MARK 464, a graduate Integrated Marketing Communication course, to create campaigns that would help the organization increase public awareness and financial support.

Diving in to create targeted marketing

Under the direction of adjunct instructor Brendan Shea, the graduate students spent the entire quarter dedicated to the project. Among the highlights was visiting A Safe Haven and meeting with the organization’s president and co-founder, Neli Vazquez Rowland, BBA ’85, to learn more about the organization and its mission.

Student Mike Anderson says the visit to A Safe Haven heavily influenced the direction of his group’s campaign.

“After visiting the facilities and hearing about all of their amazing and successful programs, it was immediately apparent to us that it was a disservice to call A Safe Haven a 'homeless shelter' because they were so much more than that,” said Anderson. “Therefore, we framed our campaign around the premise 'more than a shelter' to differentiate it from all others and validate them as a successful enterprise."

Another group focused its campaign on the hopes and dreams of Chicago’s homeless children to avoid the stigma associated with adult homelessness.

“By focusing on homeless children, our campaign avoided having to explain the causes and realities of homelessness in Chicago,” said group member John Lawrence.

“Instead, we focused on how A Safe Haven is helping homeless children and their families secure a brighter future.”

Instructor Brendan Shea was impressed by the depth and insights of each campaign.

“The students really dug deep to uncover key insights into the minds of potential donors, as well as the perceptions and often misperceptions around homelessness,” said Shea. “Each campaign took a different angle, aimed at attracting a different donor audience, so collectively, A Safe Haven received a rather comprehensive program to drive both brand awareness and, eventually, donor participation.”

Pitch Night  

At the end of the quarter, the student groups presented their campaigns to Vasquez Rowland as competing agencies trying to secure A Safe Haven as a client.

Vazquez Rowland was very impressed with the quality of the presentations and the preparedness of the students. “Each group presented thorough plans that could realistically be implemented on a limited budget,” she said.

At the end of the night, she selected the team of Sheri Ajdini, Michael Anderson, and Amie (Yajuan) Zhu and their “more than a shelter” campaign as the winning agency. 

Vazquez Rowland adds, “Without any reservation, I wholeheartedly recommend a partnership with the top-notch students of the excellent Quinlan School of Business.”

The students also found inspiration in the project. MBA student Emanuela Rossi said, “A Safe Haven does important work for the homeless community in Chicago, and I’m honored to have created a campaign for them.”