A lot of parents have been there before: You’re at the park, the kids are playing tag with some other children, and you meet the other moms and dads who are watching over the scampering pack, making sure no one takes a spill on the slide, or a dive on the monkey bars. When it’s time to go home, you may even exchange numbers with other parents so that the kids can get together again. But, more often than not, those calls are never made.
That’s what inspired Lisa Smith, who lives in the Harlem section of New York City, to think of other ways for families to get together. “I kept meeting mothers at local parks and we would exchange numbers or something, but we never ended up getting together,” she explains. She started an organization called Chase’s House to change all of that.
There was just one problem: “I’m a team of one,” Lisa says. “I basically run a community building out of my house. I have a full-time job and I don’t have any funding — no grants and no loans.”
A playdate doesn’t generally need volunteers or planning or careful budgeting, but Chase’s House activities became so popular so quickly that some started to attract up to 200 families. Since the organization was founded last summer, Lisa estimates the playdates have seen a 300% increase in attendance. That meant Lisa had to find a way to keep everyone on the same page, and fast.
A Community through Playdates
Chase’s House is named for Lisa’s young son, Chase. It isn’t an easy nonprofit to categorize. At its heart, the organization is a playdate planner, a way for children to get together once a month and enjoy activities that often have an educational slant. Events are free and open to everyone. The kids eat, learn, and play together in spots throughout the New York City area.
The organization has a deeper goal, too: community. Lisa makes sure that the events promote values that strengthen family and neighborhood bonds. “For me, Chase’s House was an official way of connecting with people by promising that we would get together,” Lisa said.
The explosive popularity of the program shows that Lisa wasn’t the only one looking for this mix of fun, and family. Chase’s House now helps bring together parents who are looking to meet other parents, and help their children (usually aged 2–7) make new friends. Nowadays, Lisa estimates that 200 families from New York City, Connecticut, and New Jersey come to the activities every month. There’s always something exciting waiting for the kids, whether that’s a trip to a petting zoo, an end-of-summer celebration in a park, or a spooky Halloween party.
As more and more families became interested in Chase’s House, it became increasingly difficult for Lisa to keep everyone connected and up-do-date. Keeping in touch with parents is easy when you’re hosting a playdate for two and the other family is just a phone call away, but when you’re hosting dozens of kids, things get a little more difficult.
Keeping It All Together
Playdates are unruly enough, but keeping track of everyone who comes, or who wants to come can be just as chaotic. Lisa needed a way to tell families about each occasion, so she turned to Email Marketing. “Constant Contact has been a resource, when I have no resources,” she explains. “It enables me to store all of my contacts and all my information in one place.”
She primarily uses the software to send out invitations to playdates and, in April, decided to complement her emails with Event Marketing. “It had been a nightmare to keep track of who was coming. I was trying to use the website, manually go through all of the emails, and use spreadsheets to keep track of who accepted and who declined.”
An invitation to the Chase's House Halloween Party - 210 people registered online.
Now, Lisa can print out a list of the responses that are automatically generated from the event marketing tool, then use those to check people in. “Just being able to have professional-looking emails and registration pages makes it look like I have a whole marketing team at my back,” she says.
Lisa’s first hurdle of getting everyone to register and connect has been cleared — more than 200 people registered for year's Halloween party at Chase’s House. The challenge for her now is figuring out what to do with them all!
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