How Special Olympics is supporting digital health and strength

“There was an event going on almost every hour of the year, outside the pandemic — across the country and globally. We had to make adjustments, not only to maintain the safety of our athletes, but to keep the community strong.”

Crystal Hudson, Director of Digital Fundraising and Strategy at Special Olympics was referring to the community of adults and children with intellectual disabilities who participate in training and health programs, and competitive athletics organized by the nonprofit, which was founded in 1968, and may be best known for its Special Olympics World Games (not to be confused with the Paralympic Games).

We wanted to learn how Special Olympics had adapted to serving such a community digitally, and which martech tools are in their toolbox.

New programs and new channels

One initiative was the launch of online fitness programs, like School of Strength, in partnership with WWE. “It allows athletes to come to our site, follow videos, and do exercises, so they can keep healthy during this time.”

There has also been an attempt to create virtual competitive events. “Some programs are doing virtual games online,” she said, “finding ways where they can measure someone’s output during certain activities, and compare it with other athletes.”

Prior to the pandemic, engagement was personal at the local level, up to statewide and international games meetings. Digital engagement has been centered around the website, along with emails. “The website has become the most centralized place for resources for parents, coaches, athletes, supporters, and people looking for general information about our movement,” said Hudson.

Brightspot as platform of choice

Special Olympics’ relationship with Brightspot goes back some years, with Brightspot co-founders David Gang and Lisa Beaudoin being strong supporters of the movement. In 2018, a decision was made to enhance the organization’s digital presence, and the website was rolled onto the Brightspot Content Business Platform, a headless (decoupled) CMS.

“We did a re-design, we did a site migration — which was a lot of work but created tons of benefit,” she said. “We have a faster site, our page load time is much better. We were not on a Google-friendly platform prior to [Brightspot] and we’ve grown in our search traffic. The ability to put up content in a fast way — we are able to react to news in the market-place in a way we never could before.”

The main Special Olympics website serves the global community, but in the U.S., local programs have their own websites. “We do integrate with them; and we’re offering the ability to take the learnings from Special Olympics, in partnership with Brightspot, and offer the same platform to our programs. Special Olympics in Tennessee and Virginia have taken advantage of that.”

Enhancing the web experience is a journey not a destination. “It wasn’t just, we re-designed and got on their system. They help us every year, not only with the current site, but the creation of new initiatives. We work together on launching the World Game sites.”

Outreach through social

Social media outreach also plays a role in engaging the community. Hudson’s team works with the social media team to identify posts the community is engaged with on social channels, which can then be reflected in content on the website. (Both teams are within the marketing and communications organization.)

“Things we put on the website are promoted through social so that people learn about our new initiatives,” said Hudson. “School of Strength was a perfect pairing of those two things: video, quotes from the WWE superstars, quotes from the athletes that were doing it, we were sharing that back and forth, and it was a huge driver of traffic to the website.”

Special Olympics selected for social media marketing and analytics.

The donor and volunteer journey

Hudson is also responsible for digital fundraising. Donor and volunteer acquisition is executed through paid search and paid social as well as native social. “You go into an onboarding series, and we’re educating you on our movement, keeping you involved with what we’re doing on events — not at the local level; we’re trying to get you to reach out to your local program and find out what’s happening.”

Special Olympics has hopes of some in-person games later this year. “We’re getting people to be motivated to volunteer, or go to the events, or just support the events through donations.”

Hudson recently adopted a new solution for nurturing her audience, EveryAction, a CRM with targeted email capabilities which also hosts Special Olympics’ webpages. EveryAction is designed to serve nonprofits and specializes in donor management.

“Return to play”

“Everyone is working towards the goal of ‘return to play,’” Hudson told us. “But we have to be safe, we have to make sure the athletes feel safe and continue to be healthy.”

Programs are rolling out their individual plans, but the timeline remains, of course, unpredictable. “Until then, we are absolutely focused on athletes remaining healthy through our online programs.”

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.

About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech Today. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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