January 12, 2011; Source: New York Times | Big Brothers Big Sisters of America wants you. But no longer just as a volunteer mentor. It's kicking off a nationwide ad campaign, "Start Something," to help raise money.

According to the New York Times, for the firs time "in its more than 100-year history, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America is actively seeking donations." The highly praised program that pairs adult volunteers with children at risk of falling into trouble is well-known as a place to volunteer. But according to Mack Koonce, executive vice president and chief operating officer, the organization is less known as "a place to donate."

The group can use the donations to help meet the rising demand for its mentoring services. He says because it costs about $1,000 a year for an adult to mentor a child, and funding has dipped, the number of volunteers being paired with children is being cut back. Last year, when the group had $278 million in revenue it paired 227,000 adults and children. In 2008, when revenues were $290 million, it helped 255,000 youngsters.

The New York office of Publicis Modem USA has developed a series of ads for the campaign that the Times says ask for "donations in a low-key way." One TV spot asks, "What if every child was sent on the right path? What if every child stayed in school? Graduated college? Got a job? Gave back to the community? What if every child’s potential was fulfilled? What could that start? It could be the start of something big. Every time you donate money or time to Big Brothers Big Sisters it makes a big impact on a Little. Start something at BigBrothersBigSisters.org.”

Other elements of the campaign will feature videos shot by mentors and children that describe their work together and that will be posted to online social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

While most experts generally praise the campaign, Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, says the part of the effort relying on social media “may not produce the huge amounts of money they want to get. There’s a strong correlation between giving and age; those who are older and have some means give more than the young.”

The Times notes that its no surprise that Peggy Conlon, chief executive of the Ad Council, which is helping with the campaign, "is bullish." If the campaign succeeds, giving to Big Brothers and Big Sisters will now be measured in more than the number of hours being volunteered.—Bruce Trachtenberg