Pro-Bono Design Marathon

Working 24 hours with no sleep for 12 new clients with 30 urgent needs can get your heart racing and inject a fresh dose of meaning into your career. That’s what the round-the-clock pro-bono marathon called CreateAThon is all about. A HOW article ("Good Night Club," June 2003) sparked my firm, Hypno, into action. Alison Judah, my partner, got so excited about the idea when I shared the article with her that she decided our small studio would not only participate in CreateAThon, but host it for the entire Philadelphia/ South Jersey region.

So on September 11, 2003, Hypno led CreateAThon with an elite crew of guest art directors, copywriters, account execs and lunatic friends helping needy organizations with $165,500 worth of pro-bono services. We used the article to recruit other like-minded creatives and businesses; photographers, printers and paper manufacturers all answered the call of duty.

When word spread that Hypno was hosting CreateAThon, I started getting emails from people I’d never heard of volunteering to work with us. There was no shortage of talent, although there was a run on available desk space. And Hypno was flooded with requests from needy organizations that heard about the event through the nonprofit grapevine. Nonprofits had been hit hard by the economic slump and many desperately needed creative services.

Within 72 hours of the start of the event—from the first scribbled notes during client meetings to the final products—we saw fully realized posters, brochures, newspaper ads, flyers, postcards, logos, videos, Web sites and billboards. The work was fantastic, and clients were tearfully happy, not only because the creative work, printing and materials were free, but because the projects’ quality was top-notch. An excellent printer, Chapel2000, donated printing and materials.

But here’s my question—it’s the only thing that puzzles me to this day about CreateAThon: Why aren’t more agencies and design firms doing it? Granted, it’s no modest undertaking. But our industry is full of immodest thinkers. And it’s a big country, filled with lots of big agencies and big ideas. Small firms like my own can make a difference, too. Only 30 firms participated in 2003 (in addition to RIGGS, the firm that launched CreateAThon in 1998). How’s that for great odds, people? There’s an enormous opportunity for any agency looking for a creative outlet for their generosity and talent to get involved. Hey, New York City: Wake up!

So I drop the gauntlet. To any HOW readers who wonder if their own companies can pull it off, I say, "Take a deep breath and get involved in the next CreateAThon.” The payoff is huge, and it may just turn out to be the craziest, funniest, scariest, happiest, wildest, most fulfilling 24 hours of your life.

Oh, and you’ll also be giving back something extraordinary to your community that will leave an impression on you and those around you for years to come. And then, you can really get a good night’s sleep.

Read more about CreateAThon at; view the work produced by Hypno and friends at