By Greg Mellen
Dan Pingaro, the president and CEO of the Ocean Institute, was giddy as he talked to about 100 marketing professionals and students who have taken on the Dana Point educational nonprofit as their special project for the weekend.
“I’m totally pumped,” said Pingaro, whose organization was chosen from about 80 nonprofit applicants looking for help to market themselves and more effectively reach and engage with the public, donors and clients. “What you do now is how we will go out and speak to the community for the next seven to 10 years. You’ll set the tone.”
Through Sunday, volunteers from Forge54 plan to help the Ocean Institute make a big splash in its branding, identity and online and marketing campaigns.
Pingaro said the first thing he heard when he joined the Ocean Institute in April was that his group was “the best-kept secret in Orange County.” That was not what he wanted to hear.
“These guys are going to create our brand DNA, which will be the architecture and framework for our brand,” Pingaro said.
At noon Friday, more than 100 young, tech-savvy volunteers gathered in Huntington Beach. Carrying sleeping bags, suitcases, tech gear and, of course, laptops, they prepared for Forge’s fifth annual marathon marketing weekend. For 54 hours they will brainstorm and collaborate on videos, social media strategies, websites and other ways to help the Institute spread its message.
The Ocean Institute, founded in 1977 as the Orange County Marine Institute, is an ocean education center that offers in-depth marine science, history and outdoor education programs to youths.
“We feel like a 40-yearold start-up,” said Pingaro. “We need to stay relevant and on the cutting edge.”
The volunteers met at the Innocean USA ad agency in Huntington Beach.
Haris Karim, 27, is a veteran of Forge54 and executive with MAB Digital Marketing. In addition to helping other nonprofits with the weekend workshop, Karim says, it is inspiring to see what other marketing professionals are doing. As a result, the event is like a marketing convention-sleepover, but with a purpose.
Looking out at the gathering of mostly younger volunteers, Karim said, “Most of these people don’t have a lot of money to donate, but they do have creativity and skills.”
Last year, Forge 54 worked with the homeless advocacy group the Illumination Foundation and has done projects with the OC Food Bank, Playworks So-Cal and Wells of Life.
Karim said Wells of Life reported a 250 percent increase in donations in the year after it was helped by Forge54.
It costs Forge54 about $10,000 to $20,000 to stage its marathon events, Karim said, but he estimates donations of services at hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of products and tools to clients.
“It’s a huge multiplier,” he said.
And they are products and services that would financially be out of reach for most nonprofits.
The services come in many forms, including updated logos and branding, web design and coding, mobile app creation and promotional videos.
“Forge54 was created to give talented young professionals a way to give back to their community in a significant way without having to donate a lot of money,” said Torrey Tayenaka, the Forge54 founder and executive director. “And with this weekend, we can give in a way that is more valuable than what any of us could do in a single day of volunteering.”
Many of the volunteers are students looking to make connections and find mentors.
They are people like Jennyfer Vargas, 20, a graphic design student at the Art Institute of California in Santa Ana, who is participating in the Forge54 event for the second time. Last year, she contributed some of the artwork used by the Illumination Foundation on its website.
For Vargas, it is an opportunity to make and meet friends, learn new things and do it for a good cause.
“Next year, maybe I’ll try marketing,” she said.
“We are good at what we do, and we have an opportunity to make a huge impact not only for this organization, but for the Orange County community,” Tayenaka said.
More information about Forge54 and the Ocean Institute can be found at Forge54.com, and oceaninstitute.org.