CEO SleepOut™ – How A Brand Can Change Behaviour

The inaugural CEO SleepOut™ last June was the single most successful charitable event ever seen in South Africa. Intrinsic to this success is a great brand that captures the essence of empathy within the corporate sphere and makes it real, according to Oresti Patricios, CEO of the Ornico Group.

“If you look at the way the CEO SleepOut has grown, even though it’s a non-profit brand, it would be the envy of any commercial, for-profit brand. It shows that ethical brands that relate to us as humans always do exceptionally well,” says Patricios.

The donations received during last year’s even exceeded the initial target of R25 000 000 – clocking R26 054 869 – and silenced the many sceptics who initially thought the objective was overly ambitious.

It is the proof in the pudding, as it were, that when harnessed in a compelling, public activation that cuts through the charity mindset to an experience that connects capital to a cause, groundbreaking achievements can be made. As Ali Gregg, founder and CEO of The CEO SleepOut observed: “It paved the way for a new thinking in regard to fund-raising, and far more effective ways of doing it”.

A full statistical breakdown of the successes of the CEO SleepOut campaign was recently released by the brand intelligence company Ornico. It shows an event that not only raised an astonishing amount of money for the chosen Founding Beneficiary, Girls & Boys Town, but generated a huge wave of valuable media attention for all concerned. In other words, this was a startlingly successful example of a win-win formula for a corporate charity event.

What do Ornico’s stats say?

The stats speak for themselves. The majority of the companies – represented by just short of the targeted 250 participants – raised much more than the required benchmark of R100 000 per participant, with Absa/Barclays Group leading (R813 260), followed by Blue Label Telecoms (R656 180). Title partner Adams & Adams raised R568 005, followed by Northam Platinum Ltd (R429 900), Firstrand Group (R412 000), Investec Bank (R400 500), Nissan (R366 833), Discovery Holdings (R346 350), Mott Macdonald PDNA (R322 130) and Title pPartner Sun International (R300 010). Other contributions, made directly to Girls & Boys Town, amounted to R391 709.

Most of the individuals who participated, braving the cold to sleep in a cardboard box in Gwen Lane, Sandton, came from the banking and finance industry (50), followed by IT (29), legal (16), construction (13), hospitality and tourism (13), mining and engineering (12), manufacturing (11), advertising, art and media (7), transport and logistics (6) and healthcare and medical (5). The demographic was well represented, with 31 (13%) of the participants black, 3% coloured, 7% Indian and 78% white.

The event itself was very well received, with 74% of media items reporting positively about it, while Girls & Boys Town was able to achieve great exposure with more than 57% of all media items making mention of this charitable organisation. In social media, #ceosleepoutza received more than 22 000 mentions, and the website was accessed by more than 50 000 users, proving to be a highly effective tool for information dissemination as well as a portal for registering participation and donations. It also boosted visibility for the partners and companies that participated in the event.

One of the main objectives of the campaign was to increase the conversation around the plight of the homeless and vulnerable, the focus of the CEO SleepOut. According to the Ornico stats, this was also roundly achieved with these issues addressed in 70% of the media coverage around it.

“This is the way philanthropy is growing across the globe – allowing people to participate with more than an electronic funds transfer (EFT). Social entrepreneurs are making it possible for each of us to identify with others in a way we never could before. Innovations that incorporate empathy are the ones that will stay with the individuals who participate, and also spread understanding and education around the issues that we can’t afford to ignore,” comments Gregg.

Social media was on fire in the week of the CEO SleepOut, and generated an impressive 21 million Twitter impressions, according to the Klout scores. The Twitter sources were influential to boot, including Thomson Reuters, The Australian and Goldman Sachs, creating significant international exposure. Local tweeters included Frank Magwegwe, segment CEO of Momentum Retail and a participant in the CEO SleepOut, politician-cum musician Lindiwe Mazibuko, and media personalities Darren “Whackhead” Simpson, Sizwe Dhlomo and Boity Thulo.

The event also received a robust mix of broadcast, online and print exposure. Broadcast media was the frontrunner in the total of 634 media items counted by Ornico, with the event’s primary media partner, Radio 702, proving to be the single biggest source of coverage with 151 items, of which more than 80% contained positive sentiments in support of the campaign. Much of this coverage was concentrated in Bruce Whitfield’s The Money Show, followed by The John Robbie Show.

Media exposure for the Title Partners and Participants was a vitally important spinoff of the CEOSleepOut, and the 10 most mentioned companies were Primedia (37), Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau (28), Sun International (26), the Gauteng Premier (22), Radio 702 (22), Lonmin (16), Adams & Adams (14), KFC (14), MBSA (13) and Barclays (12). Also, Girls & Boys Town, the largest private childcare organisation in South Africa, was afforded a great opportunity to educate the public about what it does, with more than 57% of all media items mentioning the organisation.

The reach of the CEO SleepOut campaign spread even further, though. The Ornico media analysis identified no less than 14 separate companies and schools which held their own SleepOuts on or around the same date as the official event. “Sympathy” events received coverage in 12% of the media items analysed, with Auckland Park Preparatory receiving 18% of these mentions, closely followed by Sage Pastel and King David school.

During these events, donations of blankets and food were collected and either provided to Girls & Boys Town or a worthy cause in the area.

“There is a global trend towards social entrepreneurship, a huge mindset shift in business from SMEs to corporates, and the CEO SleepOut is a true embodiment of this trend. The event last year demonstrated, in cold facts and stats, the power of business to create a positive return to society. We are planning to raise the bar even higher in this year’s second CEO SleepOut,” says Gregg.

Preparations for the second CEO SleepOut are now underway, and while it has attracted a handful of cynics, they are somewhat muted in the face of this single reality: that history was made in South Africa when more than R26-million was raised overnight, to make the world a better place.

– By The Philanthropic Collection –


The Philanthropic Collection™ is a boutique social enterprise,
where we tailor haute-couture brands for philanthropy.


Our appliqué is made up of global leaders, influencers and forecasters,
all creating conscious capital for humanity.