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AOL Impact: Making Cause Part Of The Every Day Conversation

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A little over a year ago I made a career shift to cause marketing within AOL. I didn’t have a background in cause per se, but had been inspired by a recent experience running the NYC Marathon in support of the Boomer Esiason Foundation (BEF), an organization that funds Cystic Fibrosis (CF) research. I was talked into running the race with a close friend of mine that has CF. Although I had sworn to myself that I’d never run another race after injuring myself running a few years prior, I couldn’t say no to her. I knew if she had the willingness to run the race in her condition, I had no excuse not to. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I had ever made.

It was in training for the marathon that I learned the critical nature of BEF’s work. The organization’s research and medical advancements made it possible for my friend to finish all 26.2 miles (2 minutes faster than me I should add). Feeling that collective sense of accomplishment at the finish line justified the four hours of running, and got me thinking about how else I could help her (and other CF patients) finish more races.

Eager to find other ways to support the organization, I had a conversation with Tim Armstrong, AOL’s CEO and fellow BEF supporter, about how AOL could help. We quickly realized that AOL had the ability to offer a lot more than money to BEF, and the capacity to help a lot more non-profit organizations doing equally amazing work. And so my career in cause began. And every day since, I’ve been working to uncover ways that AOL can give back to the greater good, looking outside the traditional model of corporate donations.

Fast forward a bit to November 2010, when we began dedicating a portion of the AOL homepage to non-profit organizations. We created a free placement called the Daily Impact unit that connects our core audience of over 13 million visitors to the mission and story of one non-profit each day. We also use this space to highlight the causes our homepage advertisers support (i.e. Toyota and The Audubon Society, Ford and Warriors in Pink).

It was a bold and original move that had never been done before by a company of our size. Its launch was rooted in our company’s belief to leverage our front door to shine a light on amazing non-profits and the corporations that support them. It’s inspiring when you consider the massive audience we are providing to the non-profit community, some who would never otherwise be able to reach that many people with their message and mission. To date we’ve helped over 200 non-profits and 30 advertisers tell their story on AOL.com, and driven over 1.3 million visits by AOL users to their websites to learn more and take action.

This momentum was the reason we wanted to take it one step further and create a destination site for non-profits featured on the AOL.com homepage. The site is called AOL Impact. I like to think of it as a living, breathing gallery of our non-profit and advertisers’ causes. AOL Impact aims to help users engage with these non-profits by giving them the tools and information they need to take action. For non-profits, AOL Impact’s platform helps them to fully tell their story through text, photos, videos, and key links to take action. It is meant to complement their own website, and unlock the door to a new audience of potential donors and supporters.

Please take a moment to check it out at http://impact.aol.com. If you are a non-profit, an individual with a passion for cause, or a corporation that supports a non-profit, I encourage you to submit your cause by clicking on the button at the top of the page to tell us about the non-profit you would like to see featured. Submissions will be reviewed on a rolling basis, with guidelines for submission listed on the site. We look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime, be sure to follow AOL Impact on Twitter, @AOLImpact. Also, keep your eye out for site enhancements we will be rolling out in the coming months which demonstrate the collective impact of the AOL and Huffington Post platform, including cause marketing case studies and how companies can get involved.

AOL is in the business of helping people, period. We look forward to hearing how we can help you, help others.