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At the Heart of it All

A passionate heart

Passion is the heart of innovation. If you’re passionate about your job, your work will be inspired.

But what if you can’t find that passion?

Giving back can inspire passion in your heart. In my free time, I volunteer my marketing services and participate in charity events and fundraising.

One particular volunteering experience taught me a lesson about passion.

A giving heart

A good friend of mine has a grandson who was born with a congenital heart disease. It caught the family unprepared. No one else in the family had a history of this disease.

It was a difficult time for them, but being the type of close-knit family that they are, they bonded together. They did their research, they got the best doctors and hospital involved, and had the necessary operation. Today they have a happy, healthy, and very active six-year-old boy.

They could’ve let their story end there. The family got their happy ending. But knowing that so many other families’ stories wouldn’t end the same way, they took the opportunity to start a foundation.

A Giving Heart Foundation (AGHF) raises funds and awareness of a condition affecting more babies than you might realize. In fact, 1 in every 100 children is born with congenital heart disease every year. 30% of them will require invasive surgery. AGHF was founded with the sole purpose of funding research and seeking partnerships to eliminate the need for babies and children to have open-heart surgery.

My friend who founded AGHF invited me to be a part of the volunteering committee and lead the foundation’s marketing. At first, I was honored. And then I was challenged…

A challenged heart

Raising funds and awareness of the disease was a challenge, as was our goal: that no child should experience the need for open-heart surgery.

When I met with the board, we found it difficult to express why our cause was so important. Without the ability to convey the necessity of our goal, our marketing strategies were uninspired.

In setting up the foundation, the family did amazing fundraising by tapping into their own personal and business networks. My job, however, was to expand the donor base.

Attracting charity donors is tough. There are so many well-known and well-funded organizations competing for donations.

How was I to reach people who had never heard of AGHF? How was I to inspire donations if no one was even aware of the need for the research? And how on earth was I going to produce any sort of marketing campaign on a grassroots-sized budget?

A sympathetic heart

I had no personal experience of congenital heart disease, nor had anyone in my family. It was hard for me to feel connected.

I truly wanted to help make a difference. I was sympathetic, but not yet empathetic…

And I realized – that was the problem with my marketing strategy.

Unless you or a family member or a close friend has experienced it, it’s hard to relate to the situation. And if a person can’t relate, can’t empathize with the cause, then they aren’t going to donate.

To create any effective marketing for AGHF, I needed to be passionate about it. I had to find my purpose in the cause. I needed more than sympathy; I needed empathy.

An empathetic heart

Storytelling always has a way of capturing audiences’ hearts and minds. That’s what I had to find for AGHF – a story! And not just any story, but the story of a child’s experience with congenital heart disease, open-heart surgery, and survival.

My “big idea” was to create a video (more on that later) capturing such a story. We searched for a child who had gone through this and was willing to share the experience. And then we found nine-year-old Kameryn…

From the moment I first met her, I knew Kameryn was the one we were looking for.

She was sweet and soft-spoken and utterly captivating. She showed me the scar on her chest from, not just one, but two open-heart surgeries. As I stood in her family’s kitchen capturing her interview, I watched tears run down her face.

When Kameryn told her story, it was impossible not to be deeply touched. I was moved. In that moment, everything changed for me. I found passion in AGHF’s cause and a purpose in helping other children by sharing Kameryn’s story.

Finally, I could demonstrate why the foundation exists and why they so desperately need the funding for this mission!

A Giving Heart Foundation

A purposeful heart

The Millennial generation widely uses online crowdfunding to make miracles happen. Because of that, Millennials became one of our target donor base and part of the inspiration for creating the video.

The video could easily be posted and shared around the web. Board members and volunteers could send the video link when soliciting donations. We even showed it to current donor’s at the foundation’s annual golf outing awards dinner.

Creating the video solved not only the problem of cultivating donor passion for the cause but also for reaching our target donors…millennials.


I share this experience as a marketer – a marketer who knows that your heart has to be in it if you want your work to have impact. If your heart isn’t in it, you need to search for the passion and the purpose. Just don’t be surprised if it comes in ways you never thought possible! As the saying goes – listen to your heart; it knows.

Feel free to share ways you found your passion and purpose.


Michelle Mariola is founder & director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.

  1. My oldest brother experienced open-heart surgery in 1965. At that time, performing that kind of surgery on a toddler was cutting-edge, but his recovery was so long, it delayed his entry into primary school.

    Now that we’re in the 2nd decade of the new millennium, it’s time that children’s healthcare catches up with adult’s healthcare. The video is an amazing, creative, and compelling way to advocate for research and funding.

    An old Native American proverb reads: “Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Thank you for sharing Kameryn’s story. It’s moved my heart and I’m sure it will move the hearts of others as well.

  2. Thank you, Valerie for sharing your brother’s story. It is stories like this that make the mission for the foundation that much more important!

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