By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
PELLA — When it came time for the “Tootsie Roll Campaign” this year, the Pella Knights of Columbus decided to do something different.
Yes, they still planned to raise money for the annual Knights of Columbus Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities (CPID). But, instead of focusing solely on asking for donations outside the doors of local businesses, they took to the web and the radio to raise awareness for the cause.
Thinking outside the Tootsie Roll box paid off for the council; they nearly doubled their donations from about $8,000 last year to roughly $15,000 this year. For Grand Knight Joe Lickteig, whose late sister Julie lived with an intellectual disability, the increase in donations is especially meaningful.
He was inspired to try something new when he heard at the Knights’ state convention about the successful campaign of the LeMars, Iowa, council. “They were raising $40,000 a year. I was like, ‘what on earth did they do?’” Lickteig and other Pella KC council members talked to LeMars KCs, who shared that they merge the classic storefront approach with other methods of getting the word out, including a telethon. So the Pella council began “forming a new approach” of its own.
Ultimately, the Pella Knights decided to do their own version of a telethon by making a series of videos in which Lickteig interviewed persons in the community working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. He talked to parents, the local HyVee store which hires individuals with intellectual disabilities, special education teachers at local Christian and public schools, and the director of the Christian Opportunity Center-Pella, which offers a work environment specifically for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The videos were edited, posted on YouTube and shared on Facebook. The Pella KC council has about 90 followers — not enough to make the large impact hoped for — so St. Mary Parish-Pella, Lickteig, students and the interviewees shared the posts. The Pella KCs also paid to “boost” the videos’ visibility on Facebook so that they would show up on news feeds of additional people in the Pella area.
A producer of local radio station KNIA, Andrew Schneider, got on board by offering to record and play audio versions of the interviews on air. “He’s not a Knight, but he was as excited as we were,” Lickteig said.
With the added buzz around town, KCs called businesses to ask for donations — something they hadn’t done as much of in previous years, Lickteig said. About 50 percent of businesses that the KCs approached donated. “That really changed our overall number.”
The KCs created an online portal for donations, as well. About $1,000 donations came in that way. The Tootsie Rolls still had their place, but that aspect of the campaign, too, was revamped. Groups of volunteers challenged each other to see who could raise the most money, with the victors having the privilege of presenting the donation checks at the end of the campaign.
Ten percent of the donations went to Iowa Special Olympics, with the remaining 90 percent split evenly between Pella school special education programs and the Christian Opportunity Center.
Lickteig is thrilled with the increase in donations, but recognized another benefit to the new approach: people in the community know more about the KCs and the KCs and community members know more about who they are helping. “It’s just fabulous stuff,” he said.