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Athletes for Africa: aiming high from the bottom up.

Number 2665, Jacqueline Brower of Victoria, B.C., Canada, pledged $100 and raised $270. Michael Poffenberger, number 3, pledged $1,200 and ultimately raised $1,371 from 26 sponsors around Washington, D.C. And although George Farkas of Toronto reached only 8 percent of his $30,000 goal, the 2,626th person to register raised nearly $2,500.

"We're grassroots, bottom up," said Adrian Bradbury, co-founder of the international nonprofit Athletes for Africa (A4A), and the first person to register online for the organization's sophomore run of its global GuluWalk campaign. More than 5,400 people worldwide registered for the 2006 event, which according to Bradbury, became "something of a phenomenon."

The 2006 event posted an astounding 1,200-percent increase compared to last year's, raising nearly $600,000. Additionally, via promotion on popular websites like myspace, YouTube and facebook, GuluWalk connected to thousands and eventually netted for A4A more than 15,000 unique email addresses.

Bradbury and A4A co-founder Kieran Hayward kicked off a much smaller version of GuluWalk in July 2005 with a 31-day walk to promote advocacy and awareness for the children suffering in northern Uganda. The pair completed a second walk that October, this time joined by thousands of others worldwide. "We never intended it to be a fundraising initiative," said Bradbury, who noted they never intended GuluWalk to be an online initiative either.

Bradbury and Hayward established the Toronto-based A4A in early 2004. "We wanted to do something that wasn't exporting sports, but was simply using the profile or the platform that sport provides to tell a story and raise money for sustainable development projects."

Just as A4A was getting off the ground, the two began hearing stories about the atrocities occurring in northern Uganda. After two successful walks during 2005, the second raising $40,000 and garnering worldwide interest, the partners went looking for a concept for the 2006 GuluWalk with the objective that "anybody can get involved" said Bradbury. The theme became "10,000 reasons for hope in northern Uganda," the platform was the Web, and the concept was in one word, grassroots.

A4A created a Web page (www.gulu walk.com/main/) that would display 10,000 icons. Each gray icon would represent an individual who pledged money to GuluWalk, and using flash technology would turn black upon registration. The ingenious part: scroll over each black icon and a bubble pops up, with information about the donor.

"We got great feedback," Bradbury said of the main page . "We also had some challenges, too. When you do something like that, in Flash, and it's pretty robust from a user standpoint to load, you're going to lose people. It's about understanding your audience." GuluWalk's audience is largely university age and young families who are tech savvy, added Bradbury.

"Everything that we've done we've really focused on or want or make sure that it's grassroots, and that everybody has an opportunity to impact it," said Bradbury, who calls each GuluWaik donor "the star of our campaign." Ideally, A4A had hoped to fill each of the 10,000 spots with donors pledging $100, ultimately raising $1 million.

"To go from $40,000 to $1 million, people thought we were crazy," said Bradbury. "But we thought we might as well give it a shot, and if we fail, it's going to be a pretty good failure."

Athletes for Africa will use 85 percent of the $600,000 raised for its programming, with 60 percent specifically for programs on the ground in northern Uganda.
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Title Annotation:on line
Author:Nobles, Marla E.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Jan 15, 2007
Words:585
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