UPDATED 3/6: Ideas for Pencils of Promise

(cover photo: sculpture by jennifer maestro)

The final idea:

The 60 Day, Million Dollar Challenge:  We’re going to get teams of college students to raise $1M for PoP in just 60 days. And we’re going to do using part MOOC and part reality TV.

The target audience – College Students

Characteristics include:

  • Altruism
  • Value education
  • Are interested in global issues

So of course they’re naturals to want to help PoP! 

But also, they:

  • Are uncertain about how to do things
  • Want to learn things that will help them in life
  • Crave publicity and recognition
  • -Love competition

So we’re going to help them to help us.

This is where the MOOC and reality TV aspects come in.

The Reality TV angle:

Satisfying needs for competition, publicity, and recognition

Video and stories – it’s all about video and stories. For the 60 Day Challenge Website, we produce short videos highlighting the progress of the teams. We tell compelling human-interest stories, play up competition between rival schools, show fundraising successes, failures, and lessons learned. 

In addition to the officially produced videos, each team gets a page where they get to show off to their friends and sponsors – they can upload their own videos and photos, write blog posts about their progress, and show how much they’ve raised. 

We also have weekly mini-competitions in various categories – most creative fundraising, most spirited, best awareness building, and of course, most money raised. Winning teams get call outs on the home page, as well as badges for their team page.

 Final judging at the end of the campaign provides multiple awards (you can’t have just one winner!)


The MOOC angle:

Satisfying needs for developing entrepreneurial skills; assisting in fundraising

We’re going to provide a framework to help the students be successful, and we’re going to hire a professor to help the students learn about entrepreneurship and creative problem solving.

Each week we’ll provide a suggested theme/exercise for fundraising, and educational material around thinking about and executing on that theme. Teams are not required to use the material or fundraise in any particular week – the material is there to help them if they want it. The professor will provide feedback and guidance during the Challenge, as well as setting up the exercise and educational material before hand. (Examples of exercises could include cross-promotion with local businesses, or identifying unconventional opportunities by closely observing problems people have on campus.)



We start the ground work six months before the Challenge begins. The program Administrator will work to get 100 student organizations on board with the program, create the website, and work with the entrepreneurship professor to develop the exercises for the class. During the Challenge, we send out a team of videographers to document the efforts of the Challenge teams, and edit together the official videos from there work plus a selection of work submitted by students.

Judging for the weekly mini-competitions and the final awards will be done by a combination of PoP staff and the entrepreneurship professor.



We’ve got 100 teams of college students who are incented to tell their friends, what else do you want?

Seriously, the students are probably going to do the heavy lifting. But the Challenge Administrator can set up hashtags, comment on blog posts, send out press releases and do all the standard sorts of things one does to get the word out.


Other Opportunities:

- We should be able to get some corporate sponsorship for the Challenge.  Support from airlines would be especially helpful to reduce the cost of transporting the videographers. We could probably also get corporate sponsorship for some of the exercises, if they were an opportunity to both raise funds for PoP and promote the corporate brand


Estimated Costs:

  • Website construction, video bandwidth: $100K
  • Videographer(s): $60K
  • Instructor. $35K
  • Judges and site producer. From PoP.
  • Marketing material (flyers, awards, tchotchki): $15K
  • Administration: $45K

<end final submission!>


So thanks to everyone for the comments - and also thanks to everyone out there for putting together such interesting projects! One of the things I love about these online classes is how much I can learn from other people's work. Even if I don't quite get a concept when it's first presented, seeing how many other people interpret the assignment is tremendously helpful. 

At this point, I'm going to focus on one idea for the cruise ship/tourist target, and on two for the college student target. I've decided to change the idea somewhat in most of these cases, in part because I feel I have a better grasp of the assignment now, and in part because, well, it's good to stretch a little further...

Target Demographic: Tourists on cruise ships.

Several cruise lines spend a day in port in Guatemala, mostly on the Caribbean side of the country in a litte town called San Tomas. 

(Ryndam, from the Holland American line. This ship appears to be the one most often calling at San Tomas)

San Tomas itself is a somewhat industrial, dusty town with a 'tourist market' near the docks.

(Tourist center, San Tomas Guatemala)

However, the tourists can go on day excursions to Tikal:

(Mayan ruins at Tikal)

Given the past history of glory in Guatemala, and its current more empoverished state, I think that the story we want to tell is one of transformation...

The Promise of Transformation: We encourage charitable giving by tourists on cruise ships by showing how they can be part of the ongoing transformation of Guatemala into a modern and prosperous country.

We can show transformation in many aspects - we can partner with the cruise companies to offer 'transformative' Guatemalan meals that start with tastes of traditional Guatemalan fare and end with modern Guatemalan dishes inspired by avante guarde Guatemalan chefs. We can create a short film to be showed to help educate people on the ships, showing the transformation of the country and her people. We can create souvenirs to be sold in the tourist markets, model school houses made out of pencils, dolls that transform from Mayan costumes to more modern native dress. In all cases we make a case that the driver of transformation is education, and that you (the viewer/buyer) can aid in this transformation by helping Pencils of Promise build schools.

Why will this be successful: Tourists want to feel a connection to the countries that they're visiting, and they want to believe that they can help lift poorer people around them out of poverty. By connecting these needs to the promise of transformation, we make it clear that Guatemala is already on the path to becoming a respected member of the world community and that they're backing a winner.

Target Demographic: College Students

Here I'm going to go after two subgroups - fraternities/sororities, as groups that can be mobilized to raise money for other causes, and individual sutdents who have some amount of money themselves.

The 90-day, Million Dollar Challenge: 

We engage fraternites and sororites around the country to raise $100 for Pencils of Promise in just 90 days. We provide an extensive social media campaign documenting the efforts of the various organizations during this time, giving them publicity and general appreciation for their efforts.

Think of this as doing a social-media reality show + MOOC, centered around the 90 days of fundraising. We provide video documenters and editors, our own YouTube channel showing what groups have been doing, a website where the public can read about the ongoing efforts of the heroic fraternity members, and a forum where the groups can discuss/brag about what they've done. As organizers of the event, we help out with suggested fundraising themes/challenges ever couple of weeks, and encourage the student teams to talk about their successes as a way of both bragging about their acheivements and motivating other groups with good fundraising techniques. We should be able to get some traditional media coverage with this event as well.

Why this will be successful: Fraternities already engage in a lot of charitable events (Texas A&M reports that its greek organizations raise $1m annually - that's just one school) and college students love competition, education, and bragging online about what they've done. PoP is a perfect demographic and cultural fit this target market.

Yeah Mom, I'm Playing Video Games, But It's for a Good Cause!: 


We create a casual video game centered around building schools in Guatemala (think FarmVille meets school building). People can buy items within the game to donate to PoP. For their efforts, we give participants t-shirts or other wearable tchotcki at certain levels of donation/success, which both reward the participants, raise awareness for PoP, and create a tangible and visible symbol of status within the game which encourages competition between players. Ideally, we could partner with Zynga or EA to help us with the video game technology.

Why this will be successful:  College students (well, young adults... this isn't just college students) love to play games, and they're generally idealistic even if they don't understand exactly how to put those impulses to good use. If we can get them playing a fun game where they're helping a good cause - and getting a chance to brag to their friends about it - we should be golden. The video game companies shold be willing to help us because they've got such a bad reputation generally. I know from working at EA many years ago that they were always trying to find ways to create more educational, less offensive games. (They weren't particularly successful, but they did try.)

And that's three!

Previous submission below....


Target Demographic: Tourists on cruise ships.

These people tend to be older, have disposable income, and are interested in somewhat exotic people and places. 

They’re also interested in food (they eat a lot) and natural beauty. They may well like souvenirs (especially ones that remind them of some personal connection they had to their trip.) Since they tend to be older, they may also be thinking about their legacy.


Guatemala is known for:

  • Natural beauty
  • Mayan history
  • Temples
  • Fruits
  • Violence
  • Poverty
  • Indigenous culture
  • History of CIA-influenced coups and death squads


  • ‘Make Guatemala Blossom’. We’re going to encourage cruise ship tourists to give money to help one of the great treasures of the country – its children – blossom into healthy educated adults.
  •  ‘Peace’. Insight – tourists have complained about the number of men with guns. Perhaps they also feel somewhat guilty about the US’s role in the overthrow of Guatemalan democracy and its support for the right wing dictatorship in the civil war in the 80’s. We show the tourists how their support will help Guatemala’s transformation through education into a peaceful, idyllic place.
  •  ‘Harvest’. Tourists eat really well… ‘You’ve enjoyed the fruits of the soil, now plant the seeds of the mind’
  • ‘Wisdom of the ancients’  The ancient Mayans understood and controlled their world (let’s ignore the deforestation and drought issues). But their children need new tools to face new challenges.
  • ‘Temples’ The Mayans once built beautiful cities with soaring temples. The great building project for this century is schools – you can be a part of it.
  • ‘Souvenirs that make a difference’  Stories of particular schools and particular students, and things you can get for a donation to that particular school.
  • ‘Generations/Legacy’.  Life is eternal. From the old masters, to the little children, generation to generation. New leaders from our world (the US/West) giving the next generation in this country (Guatemala) its chance.  Reaching across generations, we can make the world a better place.
  • 'Rain'. What if you had to deal with rain inside your cruise ship? That's what it's like for the school children in their leaky building.
  • 'Promises' You promised your children that they would get a good education. We make that promise to the children of Guatamala, and you can help us keep it.

Alternate Demographic:

College Students.


College students don't have huge amounts of money, but they are very idealistic, community minded, and eager to show the world that they have what it takes. They also care about education, and are likelyto be interested in helping educate poor students in third world countries.

College students like friendly rivalries - whether with other schools, other organizations within the school, or just between each other. They also seem to be motivated by thngs like virtual badges, and they're very tech saavy.

And let's not forget the the organizers of PoP are young entrepreneurs - people that college students can relate to, and aspire to be.

  •  'Growth' - Students sell something that can fit together to grow larger - stackable pencils? building blocks? Sellers get badges/tchotcki for displaying how much they have sold, buyers can visually show their altruism by displaying their growing (pencil building, block building...)
  •  'Intermural Challenge' - Students groups compete with other student groups to raise money for the project. For each $100 raised, the group gets a specific building block, which can be put together to from a model of the school they're raising funds for.
  •  'Adventure Learning' - Students raise funds for adventure travel to Guatemala, with most of the money going to the schools.
  •  'Pencil Sculpture' - Student groups build structures out of pencils provided by PoP. Each pencil costs $1, and the students may buy as many pencils as they wish. Sculpture competition judged by PoP crew at college, division, and national levels, with winners taking home various prizes.
  •  'PoP Charitable video game' Simple, social video game designed to help PoP - students help their friends compete with other student groups to build virtual schools. Various power ups cost $, similar to the Zynga model. Competition lasts for a set duration of time.

And ... that's not 25, but I'm out of time.

My comments on this assignment:

I feel pretty much overwhelmed. I don't have any experience with advertising or advertising agencies, so I'm enjoying the exposure to lots of new ideas. However, it's a little hard for me to effectively digest so many new ideas in this short amount of time.

Breaking it down, in this exercise we're being asked to synthesize:

  • Lateral thinking
  • Differentiation of an idea from a thought or a strategy (without many examples to help us)
  • Log lines
  • Targeted audiences
  • Audience research
  • 'Unpacking' of ideas

And from that, we're supposed to come up with 25 ideas well targeted to an audience, combining one or more concepts in a novel way, explanable in 25 words or less. That's a great concept, but in practice it's really really hard for someone who's coming in cold.

I'm very interested in what my classmates have to say, and what their responses to the assignment will be. I feel like I've got a lot of questions at this point - which is a great starting place for learning - but not a lot of answers.


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