Former First Lady Barbara Bush chose literacy as her life’s work based on a simple, but powerful belief: “If more people could read, write, and comprehend, we would be that much closer to solving so many of the problems plaguing our society.”
Low literacy is a silent and enduring crisis in our country. Roughly 54% of U.S. adults aged 16-74 lack proficiency in literacy, essentially reading below a sixth grade level. Over the past three decades, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy (BBF) has supported family literacy programs in all 50 states and D.C., changing the lives of countless parents and children.
In 2020, to continue its fight in addressing unmet adult literacy needs, BBF positioned itself as a modern leader in the literacy field through the strategic use of authentic success stories, helpful resources on adult literacy and programming, and compelling and easy-to-find data and research.
The foundation’s primary communications objectives were as follows:
- Raise awareness of the literacy crisis in America, making it clear that this is an issue of equity, lying at the core of multigenerational cycles of poverty, poor health, and low educational attainment impacting our families, communities, and our nation as a whole
- Build on BBF’s well-established brand, while also expanding partnerships, content, and messaging opportunities to position the foundation as an authority on adult literacy
- Continue to test digital platforms as a mechanism for building deeper relationships with its audiences from awareness and education to acquiring emails and driving donations to BBF
In a year when very little went to plan, the foundation enhanced its support of adult learners and educators through programs and resources, and continued to build its brand equity, developing engaging digital outreach and amplifying new partnerships and initiatives. BBF focused on the following approach:
- Generating original, rich media content around BBF priorities, programs, and new partnerships
- Leveraging a social listening tool to understand literacy trends and milestones in order to join relevant conversations
- Deploying scalable paid media campaigns to reach new audiences and acquire new leads (including executives, philanthropists, mothers, and those interested in charitable causes), as well as test BBF messaging and creative among its current community, including donors and partners
- Partnering with organizations to expand its reach and engage new circles
Recognized by Forbes during the pandemic as a leader in a time of uncertainty, BBF showed up for learners in need in two big ways:
- 1) To help families navigate the transition to at-home learning, BBF developed two educational toolkits for parents, educators, and adult learners featuring high-quality, free online resources
- 2) As distance learning continued, the foundation launched a podcast featuring original audio from Barbara Bush’s radio program, including special guests former First Lady Laura Bush, Oprah Winfrey and beloved children’s characters
During this time, BBF also engaged existing and potential donors by:
- Launching a fall Literacy is the Key webinar series to show BBF and its connection to industry leaders, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham who discussed the intersection of literacy and equity issues
- Partnering with Gallup and economist Dr. Jonathan Rothwell to assess literacy through the lens of economic impact
- Executing a branded content partnership with Garden & Gun to reach new potential advocates
All of these efforts to position BBF as a key player in solving the literacy crisis were supported by website content, email distribution, and social media across BBF and partner outlets.
The success of this approach was also amplified by BBF’s strong and consistent brand to guide how, when, and where to reach out to digital audiences. Branding efforts included to:
- Refine and optimize the website
- Continue evolving digital efforts to focus on corporate support
- Collect adult learner and programmatic success stories
- Increase influencer and partner engagement
To build an effective and long-lasting content strategy, BBF messaging centered around the key premise that literacy is the key to solving today's most pressing issues. Our audience-centric approach guided us to post approximately four times a week across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In tandem with our always-content content engine, BBF participated in relevant literacy and equity conversations discovered through social listening, monitoring opportunities to engage around milestones and awareness days like National Literacy Month and National Read a Book Day.
By producing a steady drumbeat of content, entering into relevant conferences, and launching successful new partnerships supported by digital outreach, BBF was able to grow its community, and emerge as a leading voice in 2020 advocating for the importance of literacy in the fight for equity and justice.
As a result of BBF's intentional strategic approach, the foundation's most important audiences— old and new — understand how the foundation helps Americans live with dignity, prosperity, and opportunity through the power of literacy. BBF delivered results across all its objectives this year as measured by the following KPIs:
- Raising awareness of the Foundation and its role in helping to solve the literacy crisis
- Grew the social community to nearly 142,000 followers, an 8% increase from the year prior
- Website traffic was up 65% in 2020, compared to the same period in 2019
- Building on the brand and reaching new circles to grow the community
- Traffic to the timely adult learning resources produced in March during the pandemic, contributing to a more than 200% increase to total site traffic that month compared to the year prior 2019
- Of all website traffic in Q3, 96% was from new users
- Engagement between online influencers, foundation stakeholders, and BBF increased with interactions from Tim McGraw, Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush Jr., Jon Meacham, and many notable authors
- Generating new leads and donations
- A scalable paid media program that launched in May allowed us to reach 35X more people than BBF organic content
- Donation page traffic increased by 2,597% during this same time period, raising the likelihood of website-based donations
- A small lead generation program that ran on Facebook for 2 weeks increased BBF’s email subscribers by 3% with an average cost-per-lead of $3, on the low end of the $3-7 industry benchmark
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