David Gang and Brightspot have been a very significant part of who we are as a global movement. He has been our strategic visionary on technology for more than 16 years, helping us create a vision for how our movement should reinvent itself digitally. David has led us through every twist and turn in the digital landscape.
Since 2008, Special Olympics International (SOI) has entrusted Brightspot to be its lead digital partner. This long-term relationship has achieved the development of 5 new web sites, 2 major redesigns of www.specialolympics.org, and the creation of templates for all 220 programs worldwide.
A Very Special Partnership
“We are dedicated to the entire Special Olympics organization, and it is an honor for us to be their partner,” said David Gang, Brightspot’s CEO. “Every year more and more of our staff get involved with Special Olympics athletes and events. We started by doing design, development, and content publishing with a small team. We expand our digital support every year. This past year, we sent employees to Korea for the 2013 World Winter Games, and they had indelible experiences working as volunteers and sharing the athletes’ joy. We have a goal of sending 50 employees to the LA Games in 2015. The Special Olympics organization and its athletes are a part of our lives. Our work with them is not something extra or special for us; it’s just what we do.”
Added Shriver, “David and Brightspot don’t just give us very significant financial and in-kind contributions. There is a family commitment that goes both ways, and I mean that in the broadest sense of ‘family.’ They volunteer, work at events, employ one of our athletes, and so much more. It’s only authentic if you do it and not just talk about it. Brightspot does it.”
Rose Pleskow, a Special Olympics athlete employed by Brightspot, expanded on Shriver’s comments, “I started working at Brightspot as an unpaid intern. After my internship, I was hired as an employee. I earned that, and now I get a paycheck every week. It feels really good to have a paying job. Friends of mine told me that I couldn’t do it and that I didn’t have the ability. But I proved them wrong. I feel so proud and good.”
Peter Wheeler, Chief of Strategic Properties for SOI, added, Brightspot's action hiring Rose Pleskow speaks louder than any words. It highlights Brightspot’s commitment to celebrating differences and understanding the gifts that each person has.”
Before coming to Brightspot, I had had no involvement with or exposure to Special Olympics. But I have spent the last 5 years working with their staff, reading all their materials, and pouring through photos. I was lucky enough to volunteer in Korea for the World Games. Seeing these events, standing alongside the athletes, and experiencing their joy with them moved me immensely. Now I can’t imagine not being involved with Special Olympics for the rest of my life.
"This is Personal"
“David and I met in 1997 when he was at AOL,” recalled Wheeler. “We had no web site, no online presence. He showed up in our office saying he was here to help. Over the last 16 years, he has been an unbelievable supporter, friend, advisor, and visionary ever since the minute that he walked through that door.” Wheeler continued, “David and Lisa [Beaudoin] set out to build a profitable business and at the same time share their success with charitable causes. Fortunately for Special Olympics, one of their choices was us.” Gang explained, “My mom was a special education teacher for 30 years. My wife worked at Special Olympics for 4 years before our son Matthew was born. Matthew is a 13 year old with Down Syndrome and is active in several sports. This is personal for me. When Lisa and I started Brightspot, we baked giving back into the fabric of the company. We made it our mission to support Special Olympics because Lisa and I had been working together with them for so many years prior to launching our own company.”
For the first time in my more than 15 year career, I really feel like I am using my talents to affect lives. I am helping people in really tangible ways, and that feels great.
Brightspot’s commitment to charitable involvement expands beyond Special Olympics. The company gives a percent of profits to charity ever year and supports other non-profits that serve people with intellectual disabilities, veterans, domestic abuse victims, and children in need. Those organizations include Best Buddies, The First Tee, Tiger Woods Foundation, Dog Tag Bakery, Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, and Unbeatable. In June 2013, Brightspot sponsored 48 golfers as part of the Congressional Pro Am golf tournament. The mixed teams consisted of SOI athletes, wounded veterans, The First Tee youth golfers, Brightspot employees, and PGA professionals. Parker Ramsdell, a Brightspot employee, participated in the event and commented, “Brightspot was proud to celebrate the incredible talents of all of these remarkable individuals. It was a really special event to bring together a wide array of individuals and extol the values of inclusion and appreciation.”
Our Work Together
For the past 5 years, Special Olympics and Brightspot have raced hand-in-hand together to overhaul Special Olympics’ existing web presence and significantly expand it. Brightspot has designed and built an array of new sites, including LA2015.org, which is the largest and most recent project for the partnership.
Complete Site Redesigns
Brightspot’s first project for SOI was in 2008 when www.specialolympics.org received a much-needed redesign. The former site was hard to navigate and uninspiring. In 2011, Brightspot was asked to update and modernize the site again. The site was redesigned from start to finish and focused on storytelling, showcasing more photos, adding new features, and highlighting individuals’ stories.
You are going to save Programs tons and tons of money, time, etc., while at the same time working together to share consistent and updated messaging Movement-wide. I’m floored with how awesome this is and am so proud to be part of a team that is working so hard to aid/lead our communications throughout the world.
Special Olympics asked Brightspot to develop a single, consistent set of templates that all 220 Special Olympics programs around the world, including each of the 50 domestic statewide programs, could use for its dedicated site. With these templates and at minimal cost, each program was able to have a visually rich and engaging site, full of local and national content, and complete with uniform branding and look and feel. These templates raised the bar for the programs’ online presences without requiring expensive engineering talent, design resources, or significant content development effort.
Sites Focused on Advocacy
While Special Olympics is best known for its athletes and the biennial games the organization puts on worldwide, advocacy and education are key components of Special Olympics’ core goals. Brightspot designed www.r-word.org in 2009 to raise awareness about the harmful and hurtful effects the r-word has on people. The focal points of the site are the personal stories that visitors submit and the wall of pledges to eliminate the use of the r-word.
In a related way, “ Get Into It” targets educators and students and provides them with online resources to learn how to help kids maximize their full potential and respect people with intellectual disabilities. These resource-laden sites frequently get design refreshes as well as the addition of new features and functionality.
Dylan Gang, a Brightspot employee who has volunteered at many Special Olympics events, talked about the impact on his co-workers of the partnership. “Many of the people I work with every day had had no previous experience with Special Olympics and had never known anyone with an intellectual disability. All of a sudden, my office mates who never thought about the harmful effects of the r-word, for example, are standing up against it, wearing ‘spread the word to end the word’ t-shirts, and being cognizant of how hurtful the word is. My co-workers’ new activism and awareness have become a true and lasting part of them, and it’s awesome to see.”
Tribute Sites Honoring the Founders
“It was an honor to be asked to build sites that spoke to the lives of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver. They were amazing individuals who had a dramatic impact on millions of people around the world, and we wanted to honor their extraordinary legacy to Special Olympics as well as to social justice and equality for everyone,” said Gang. The sites that Brightspot designed and built showed off the Shrivers’ lives’ work, telling their story through a vast array of photographs and letters from people who had been touched by the Shrivers. Visitors to the site are invited to post their own offering on a tribute wall and read page after page of those written by others. “The sites that Brightspot built for the Shrivers were beautiful, wonderful, and so fitting for the couple who had helped change the world,” said Wheeler.
The sites that Brightspot built for my parents were critical, pivotal points in the history of our organization. The family quality of the movement was beautifully captured for the world and for our athletes. These were moments of huge emotional shifts facilitated by the opportunity to share memories together, and Perfect Sense made it all happen.
Every year, Special Olympics works with the recording industry’s top talent to create A Very Special Christmas; the benefit album’s proceeds go directly to supporting the organization’s activities. With the help of Brightspot, for the first time in 26 years, all of the available albums were together in one place for purchase. The site showcased how purchasing an album could directly benefit SOI athletes, so potential buyers could understand their impact first-hand. Brightspot’s Brightspot platform, its CMS, enabled the simple addition and updates of new content, albums, songs, and artist bio pages. Brightspot’s scheduler allowed all of the content for the new album to be staged in advance and pushed live at the exact moment the album was released for sale.
When it was announced that the Summer World Games would be in LA in 2015, Brightspot immediately got to work designing and developing a site that would be unlike any that had come before it. Gang explained, “We knew we had to be the standard for future games, setting the model for a digital experience that others would try to emulate. We envisioned a dynamic central hub where athletes, families, fans, and volunteers could publish content immediately from any location on any device. We imagined that during the 10 days of the games in summer 2015, thousands of people at all events would tell their stories in real time, with videos, pictures, tweets, posts, and so much more. Thanks to Brightspot, we will be able to tell the full story of the games, and our vision will become a reality in 2015.”
The current World Games site provides news about the event and encourages volunteer sign-ups and donations. In 2014, it will relaunch with a robust collection of information about events and venues for athletes and volunteers. Brightspot enables the easy and quick addition and editing of content by Special Olympics staff and also by the athletes and their families. For the first time, athletes will be able to post their own photos, tag them, organize them, and more. Additionally, Brightspot facilitates third-party vendor integration for registration, volunteer sign-up, outbound email campaigns, etc.
A Gold Medal Partnership
Special Olympics and Brightspot’s enduring partnership is one for the record books; together the organizations have built a digital foundation on which all future efforts will stand. LA2015 will be the crowning achievement for the team over a 7 year period, and after that, the partners will turn to 2017, 2019, and beyond.
Said Pleskow, “It’s a beautiful thing that Special Olympics is one of Brightspot’s partners. Right now I’m doing QA for the Special Olympics sites, and I get very excited. It has a special meaning for me. I feel very fortunate and lucky to be a part of Brightspot.”
David Gang summed it up this way, “Special Olympics’ mission of ‘fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people’ inspires us at Brightspot. It has from the day the company was formed. Every year, more and more of our staff are dedicated to giving opportunities that can help transform lives throughout our global community. At the end of the day, when our employees and our partners look back on their time at Brightspot, we want them remembering their experience as one where we cared about people and focused on what is important, their families and the lives of people who need a helping hand. The impact on our employees, partners, and Special Olympics athletes is for life. That is one of the most important life values you get from the Brightspot work experience.”
Peter Wheeler finished, “Brightspot has been everything we could ever dream of as a partner. They help us tell our stories to audiences around the world in a way that we never could have done without them. They are visionaries that guide our path in the ever-changing digital world. We have something very special here.”
We present a fundamental challenge to Brightspot that they are especially good at solving. How can we create an experience of SOI’s value proposition for the end user that changes his or her life? We are looking to generate deep and lasting emotional connections; David and his team get that. There are so many challenges in the future, and we are just scratching the surface of all that we need to do. But we’ve got the right team in Brightspot to lead us forward.