Creative Giving during the Christmas Season

by | Jun 27, 2021 | Case Studies

Project Elle is a Christian nonprofit based in DFW whose mission is to educate and care for the physical and spiritual needs of women and children locally and in South Africa.

Project Elle’s staff approached us in September of 2020, just after we formed All Good Studio. They originally wanted our help celebrating their 15-year anniversary with donors, but after just one meeting, we realized that they needed that and much more, the most important being a way to make up for a large gap in financial resources due to the expense of PPE overseas during the pandemic.

With the holidays around the corner, we could think of no better solution than a Christmas giving catalog that would do all of the above: celebrate Project Elle’s history during the most wonderful (generous) time of the year. After all, what captures people’s hearts and attention like Christmas?  

Since the organization had little existing content, we knew the bulk of our time would be spent generating ourselves—which meant we had zero time to waste. (For real. We had about a month to get that thing back from the press!) Successfully raising funds called for a careful content strategy, one that spoke to a wide range of people and clearly communicated Project Elle’s mission and history to past donors as well as people unfamiliar with the organization. And perhaps more important than anything was personality: The catalog had to be festive and personal—not only to tug on donors’ heart strings, but to convey just how impactful Project Elle’s work has been for everyone involved. So, rather than rely on our own interpretation of Project Elle’s work, we went straight to the source: Project Elle’s founder, Tracee Williams, to get what we needed—because who better to help us see the personal side of the organization than the very person whose vision set it in motion?

And man, did we make the right choice! Tracee is a “bright light” of a human if there ever was one: easygoing, vivacious, and the epitome of Southern charm. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with her and Project Elle…because they’re really one in the same. Through multiple interviews with her, we were able to see Project Elle in a new light, dividing its programs into clear categories (supporting creches, educating children, working overseas, and caring for mothers). We were able to use these categories to create giving sections in the catalog, which made Project Elle’s far-reaching mission more understandable than ever and helped donors identify the programs they cared about most.

Beyond giving us a comprehensive understanding of the work itself, Tracee gave us a glimpse into the heart of Project Elle’s mission: “In 2005, my husband and I lost our newborn baby girl, Elle. The pain was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was unimaginable, but I did my best to trust that God would be faithful to work it together for His good. Then, in 2010, I went on a mission trip with 25 bags of items for mothers in South Africa and somehow birthed a ministry 10,000 miles away. God restored, redeemed, and honored my greatest treasure in heaven, Elle, by allowing me to serve women and children in need locally and around the world.” 

Baby Elle’s footprints.

Tracee’s passion for the women and children she serves was so evident in every description she gave us, in every story, that we couldn’t imagine creating a catalog that would be true to the organization without her stories inside. So, we decided not to try. Instead, we would work in Tracee’s stories and others from Project Elle by introducing each of the giving sections with a short story relevant to its corresponding category. Fortunately, we already had a plethora of content to work with from Tracee, but we wanted more. To truly show donors the impact of Project Elle’s work, we needed to hear from a myriad of voices who had experienced this impact firsthand.

We put together lists of questions for the teachers at Tracee’s schools in South Africa, as well her on-the-ground administrative staff and others close to the organization. Questions like, “What led you to do what you do?”, “What do you love most about your work?”, and “How have you seen God work through this ministry?”—along with about 200 others were sent over. We wanted to know EVERYTHING, and culturally, we knew the only way we were going to get it was by asking specific questions.

And boy, did we get answers! Teachers wrote about how the opportunity to teach had changed the lives of their families and students. Staff shared about how working with Project Elle had saved them from a life of poverty and pain. The responses were endless and detailed. Some of our favorites came from Siya, one of Tracee’s administrators, who helps run day-to-day activities for Project Elle and is in charge of taking porridge to the preschools every morning. Here is part of his story, pulled from the catalog:

“Growing up, I did not have many role models in life. But things changed for me when I met Pastor Amos. Amos took me under his wing and taught me what it meant to be a leader and a follower of Christ. I would go with him as he encouraged teachers, praying with them and helping them however I could. Through those visits, God opened my eyes to the problems in my community. I saw that He had put me here for a reason: to be a mentor to people in need.

Seven years later, I am so thankful to be serving and mentoring with Project Elle. My favorite part is working with the children! They are the reason I get out of bed each morning. I take porridge to their creches (preschools), and you should see their faces when I walk in, so happy and excited! Before leaving, I always stop to play with them. They love my crazy dance moves, and I love hearing all about their new books and dreams.”

The South Africa Project Elle staff.

If we weren’t in love with Project Elle before, we definitely were now. With Tracee’s help, we narrowed down the stories and quickly got them composed. Since she knew many of them just as intimately, we were able to open each with a note from her as a sort of unifying voice throughout the catalog. After just two weeks of work, we had a complete collection of joyous memories (hence the catalog name, JOY) from Project Elle’s past and more recent history ready to go. We couldn’t believe it! All that was left was the catalog design. Well, that, and everything else.

To maintain the class and femininity associated with Project Elle and stay true to the holiday season, we knew we couldn’t go with Christmas trees and snow for the look. So we went with a more modern take, incorporating purple (upon Tracee’s request) and softer Christmas elements. In the end, this made for a vibrant yet sophisticated design that brought out Project Elle’s personality and the spirit of Christmas all in one. And, since Project Elle didn’t have a professional photo library, stock images were added to help donors visualize the need and better connect to the cause. Together, these details made for a highly visual, clean design that reflected Project Elle’s personality and served to enhance the stories throughout.

But the print catalog was just phase one! We also created an online, e-commerce version of the catalog to make giving fast and easy. This was a cool addition to Project Elle’s main site, which our team had designed over a year before. Donors simply had to visit the site to find their favorite giving options, add them to their cart, and “check out” much like an online shopping experience. To make this experience as unique as the print catalog, we added features to help donors connect themselves and their families to the cause, such as our Stocking Stuffers! These last-minute “add-ons” allowed donors to give two gifts in one: one to a child in South Africa and another to a loved one in the States. Once a Stocking Stuffer was selected, donors could download and print it immediately or have it sent to their email inbox to be printed later.

All in all, the process of making the catalog was so much fun and such a blessing to us. Getting to know Tracee, her work on the field, and the people impacted by it was the best Christmas gift we could have asked for—and getting to be a part of it was pretty amazing too!

All Good’s Impact

Our hope for the JOY catalog was that it would not only celebrate Project Elle’s 15 years of ministry but also make way for many more. And it did just that, raising over $23,000, almost twice the organization’s annual budget, in just five weeks! These additional funds provided continued support to the women and children already in Project Elle’s programs and, through the opening of 15 new preschools in South Africa, extended relief to a total of 657 children in need.

But our impact won’t stop there. In the process of writing the catalog, we were able to identify ongoing needs of the organization—needs that can now be met year-round through the sponsorship opportunities we created.

Let’s do good things together.