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Fall 2022 Project Spotlight: American Heart Association

Learn about how our consultants improved the growth and strength of AHA's Women of Impact program.


Problem Statement

180DC-USC team was tasked to improve the recruitment process and reach of AHA’s Woman of Impact program. Specifically, they wanted us to help them increase the quality of nominees in the program, and improve engagement levels.

About American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a nonprofit health agency dedicated to improving cardiovascular health. Through increasing awareness, establishing education and health programs, and investing over five billion dollars in research funding since 1949, the AHA has impacted American communities by reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease by over 15% since 2018, among other metrics.

As the oldest and largest voluntary organization fighting heart disease and stroke in the US, the AHA mobilizes more than 40 million volunteers and 2,800 employees in support of their cause. The AHA’s base of volunteers is central to the organization’s fundraising and advocacy efforts. To increase volunteer engagement and expand community impact, AHA developed the Women of Impact program as part of its signature Women’s program, Go Red For Women.

Problem Description

The American Heart Association started a relatively new Woman of Impact (WOI) program two years ago. The WOI program selects female "nominees" to put together a team and fundraise within their communities. The nominees compete to raise the most money in order to win the "Woman of Impact" title.

However, the WOI program struggled to gain traction, especially because it launched virtually over COVID. WOI recruitment directors struggled to find strong prospective talent pools, leading to a shortage of high-quality nominees within the program. And, once nominees were selected ,many became disengaged and inconsistent in their communication because of the lag time in the pre-competition recruitment process. During the competition, many nominees also struggled to raise funding because they hadn't been adequately trained and supported through the onboarding process.

Project Agenda & Objectives

Our goal was to improve the recruitment process and reach of AHA's Women of Impact program. In order to address problems of nominee quality and lack of nominee engagement, we broke down our problem solving approach into three main components:

  1. Process Improvement: Improve recruitment process by understanding best practices from comparable organizations.

  2. Recruitment Growth: Increase the quantity of high-quality nominees by identifying talent pools and creating a streamlined outreach process.

  3. Nominee Engagement: Improve engagement levels by identifying pain-points in the recruitment, onboarding, and competition process. Then develop solutions and resources to address the issues.

1) Process Improvement, In More Depth

The first component to the problem solving was to find identify actionable ways that AHA could improve their Women of Impact recruitment process.

We achieved this by finding best practices from comparable organizations, fundraising competitions, and nonprofit programs. When we were conducting our external analysis, we began by identifying the most relevant comparable programs based on the program similarity. We ended up centering our analysis on three main programs: the WomenHeart program, Leukemia and Lymphoma society's Man of the Year program, and the American Diabetes Association's Father of the Year program. We specifically looked at the recruitment criteria, incentive structures, and recruitment strategies when analyzing these programs.

We concluded that AHA could improve their overall recruitment process by making three key updates: in-person engagements, LinkedIn presence, and partnership-based incentives. We found that hosting live events like marathons, fun-runs, and information sessions would boost both interest and commitment. We also saw LinkedIn as a key method of advertising the program, as well as being a platform for direct-messaging outreach.

Finally, we found that listing clear incentive structures is extremely important to attracting quality nominees. One potential way to provide incentives is to partner with local organizations and nonprofits to fund either monetary prizes or research opportunities.

2) Recruitment Growth, In More Depth

We determined that the first step to increasing nominee quality was through enlarging the pool of potential candidates that WOI directors could select from. With more options to choose from, program runners could be more selective about fit-criteria and qualifications.

We identified potential candidate pools within companies/corporations, health-related initiatives, and non-profits/social enterprises. Within these broad categories, we identified key traits linked to nominee success, such as having personal connections to heart disease or experience in a marketing field, to narrow down a list of relevant organizations.

Once we identified potential talent pools, we wanted to make our findings more actionable to AHA's recruitment directors. Our next step was to expand the work in document-form deliverables that supported the entire outreach process of finding a nominee.

  1. First, we created an "organization partnership" deliverable that provided a descriptive overview detailing three different types of potential partnership models, and notes on how to help lead preliminary discussions for a more clearly-defined incentives structure.

  2. Secondly, we created a resource with a list of over 45 personalized and relevant organizations with an attached tracking list of over 70 relevant points of contacts.

  3. Additionally, we included a sample outreach template and sample meeting agenda that directors can use to reach out to the contacts provided.

3) Nominee Engagement, In More Depth

For the final component of our project, we wanted to tackle nominee engagement. We diagnosed the problem by first conducting interviews with the Women of Impact directors in charge of keeping nominees accountable in different regional markets across the US. Through these interviews, we diagnosed the main problem-drivers as nominee-director meeting attendance, training and education, and nominee retention. We also found that there was significant lag time between the initial recruitment and the start date of the competition.

Once we identified these as the issues, developed a best practices guide to create standardized processes for AHA’s WOI team on potential implementation. The guide includes a Nominee FAQ, a Nominee Questionnaire Form, and a Nominee Onboarding Guide.

The Impact of 180DC's Work

Our work will help AHA refine the recruitment process for their Women of Impact program to result in higher quality candidates as well as more engaged nominees. By changing their process to include more in-person engagements as well as strengthening awareness through LinkedIn, the program's recruitment processes should align more with comparable programs and allow them to scale the size of WOI over time.

Then, with the resources we provided, recruitment directors can expand their recruitment pipelines both in the short on long term. Immediately, they can use the provided points of contact to reach out to potential candidates in relevant organizations. Then, using the suggested partnership models, directors can work to create longer term pipeline programs that ensure they have consistent talent being streamlined into Women of Impact.

Finally, the inclusion of engagement guides will help standardize the training and onboarding process so that nominees are more likely to be engaged. With a stricter schedule, nominees have a greater sense of accountability. And with an updated training process, nominees can also feel more prepared for their role, and have the confidence they need to succeed as a candidate.


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