Capitalizing on the feel-good vibe of the Irish holiday, the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Shamrocks campaign raises millions during March.
While lots of people use St. Patrick’s Day as a reason to wear green and eat corned beef and cabbage, the Muscular Dystrophy Association has tied the day to its annual MDA Shamrocks fundraising campaign for nearly 40 years.
“The thing about St. Patrick’s Day is everybody’s Irish that day,” said Scarlett Marchman, MDA’s vice president of retail partners. “I think the average spend per person for St. Patrick’s Day is almost $40. As it morphed, we realized how big St. Patrick’s Day was. It’s a great day to ask people to give.”
While St. Patrick is known for reforming Ireland, MDA’s tie to the day arose from the modern-day celebration, not the man himself. The idea for MDA Shamrocks emerged in the 1980s when a staffer was out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. “She was at a bar, and they used to hang shamrocks in bar, all over the wall,” said Marchman. The staffer convinced Budweiser, an MDA sponsor at the time, to distribute paper shamrocks to bars, which customers could then purchase by donating to MDA.
The campaign raised $40,000 the first year, leading MDA to make it an annual thing.
Perhaps in a nod to the traditional three-leaf shamrock, the campaign has grown to include three components. The first is a riff on the original partnership with Budweiser: stores offer paper shamrocks in exchange for a donation. The charity has several retail partners, including Citgo Petroleum, Kroger, and Bojangles, who provide the paper shamrock at the suggested $1 or $5 donation point, with an option for people to donate more.
The program later added a second component, Green Day for MDA, that allows more staff participation and brings in businesses that don’t have retail stores. Green Day is held on St. Patrick’s Day, or the nearest nonweekend workday. (This year, it’s March 15 because St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday.) During Green Day, employees are encouraged to wear green and host MDA fundraisers.
“For example, at Bojangles, their employees do in-store fundraising programs,” Marchman said. “The Green Day is about employee engagement. It’s a way to get your employees involved.” Some employees even take it outside of work, hosting employee bowl-a-thons.
The third prong, the online component, is relatively new. MDA allows people to donate online and encourages them to post on social media using #MDAShamrocks. This year, the group also is allowing people to create Facebook fundraisers.
The campaign has raised more than $323 million since it’s inception. Marchman says the campaign raised a little more than $8 million last year, and MDA hopes boost that amount to $9 million this go-round. While St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, the fundraising efforts run throughout the entire month.
“I think it’s a great way to build momentum around your cause,” Marchman said. “People are already happy and celebrating; now, it gives them a reason to give.”