Here is a news article that explains it:
Florida Artist Raises Over $7,500 For Literacy
Florida artist, Larry Whitler, raised $7,501.27 for the Marion County Literacy Council in Ocala, Florida, by selling his original “plein air” landscape oil paintings for $1,000 each.
When artist Larry Whitler received a letter in the mail informing him that he had been nominated to be a candidate in something called “Kiss The Horse For Literacy” he wasn’t sure what it was, who nominated him, and whether he could live up to whatever expectations were now somehow associated with him.
The letter arrived in October of 2011 on Whitler’s desk at Ocala radio station WOCA where he hosts a morning drive program with longtime co-host Robin MacBlane. The letter made it clear that “Kiss The Horse For Literacy” was a fundraising campaign to help a local organization called the Marion County Literacy Council in their mission to teach illiterate adults how to read.
The campaign was simple: Each of twelve candidates would compete against each other to earn the privilege of kissing a horse. Each vote would cost one dollar and at the end of the campaign, scheduled for December 3, 2011, the winner would be the candidate with the most votes (in other words, the candidate who raised the most money).
As a radio host it is not unusual to receive requests from organizations to help with fundraising efforts. The request is usually for air-time. Maybe a thirty second public service announcement or a half-hour interview. But now and then the requests are more challenging.
Whitler and MacBlane have found themselves “locked up” in a fake jail for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, playing golf for Veterans Helping Veterans, doing charcoal sketches and face painting at various non-profit functions, and performing concerts under their stage name of Robin And The Giant all for the purpose of raising money for the organizations hosting the events.
Now, Whitler found himself challenged to raise money for literacy. A little internet researching revealed the astonishing statistic that one in seven adult Americans cannot read. “It seemed like such a fixable handicap,” Whitler remembers thinking. “The mission of the Marion County Literacy Council suddenly became my own mission when I was nominated to be a candidate and so I felt compelled to devote as much of my time and talent as I possibly could, at least during the six weeks of the campaign.”
With MacBlane acting as his campaign manager, Whitler set up a website where “voters” could make donations on-line through PayPal. He offered an e-book version of “The Gift Of The Barking Frog,” a book authored by Whitler and MacBlane, with the proceeds going to the Literacy Council. He authored short animated videos encouraging viewers to support his campaign. And, of course, he used his position as a radio host to encourage his listeners to make donations.
Those ideas yielded a small amount of contributions but it was clear that if Whitler was going to win the campaign and be “elected” to kiss the horse he was going to have to come up with a better fundraising idea.
Adorning the walls of his home Whitler had a dozen oil painting landscapes that he had painted earlier in the year. They were the result of a dedicated exploration he and MacBlane had embarked upon of the “plein air” style of painting made popular in the mid 19th Century by French Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
While pondering how to raise more money for literacy, and while looking at his own paintings, Whitler realized that the twelve oil landscapes would make a great calendar and that he could sell that calendar and donate the proceeds to the “Kiss The Horse For Literacy” campaign.
The problem, though, was the timing. There was only about a month left before the deadline for the fundraising campaign and most calendar publishers would need much more time than was available.
So Whitler went on the internet and utilized the services of an “on-demand” publisher named Lulu to create and market his calendar. The problem, now, was the price. On demand publishing would cost $15 per calendar and, in order to use the calendar as a fundraiser, at least $10 profit per calendar would have to be added. $25 a calendar seemed a bit expensive when compared to the numerous calendars available for much less.
That’s when Whitler had a brainstorm. He decided to issue a news release to the press announcing that he was selling his original oil paintings for $1,000 each. The idea was intended to be a publicity stunt. Whitler had never sold any of his paintings and so it seemed unthinkable that anyone would actually pay $1,000 for one of them. The article then went on to mention the calendar. Whitler explains, “Robin and I hoped that the $1,000 price tag would attract attention and then, when people read the article, they would discover that we were selling calendars to raise money. We simply wanted to create a ‘buzz’ so that we might sell more calendars.”
The news release was submitted to the press through PR Web, a public relations agency, and the story was distributed to every major newspaper in the United States as well as the top news agencies like Associated Press, Reuters, UPI, and the New York Times.
As the news spread so did interest in the paintings. That’s when the unexpected happened. Art buyers were contacting Whitler and MacBlane and inquiring about the oil paintings. Within one week of the news release four paintings had sold for $1,000 each. “It was astounding,” said Whitler. “Robin and I couldn’t believe it! And we couldn’t wait to bring the money to the Literacy Council.”
As the days of the “Kiss The Horse” campaign drew to a close three more paintings were sold for a grand total of $7,000 that was added to the $501.27 that was raised through the other aforementioned fundraising strategies.
The grand finale of the campaign culminated at Hennessey Arabian Horse Farm in Ocala, Florida. Whitler and MacBlane, along with WOCA General Manager Joe Martone and his wife Patsy, joined the other “Kiss The Horse” candidates and several hundred other guests to find out who would be crowned the winner and have the privilege of kissing the horse.
The competition was tough. Last year’s winner was Dr. Manal Fakhoury and it was rumored that she was able to raise more than $5,000 in 2010. Whitler and MacBlane knew they had done well with the sale of the paintings but they were not sure whether Dr. Fakhoury would, once again, rise to the top and take home the trophy.
Finally it was the moment for the announcement. Whitler and MacBlane lined up with the other candidates in a horse Paddock along with Karen Hill, Executive Director for the Marion County Literacy Council, and Marisol Sepulveda, Program Coordinator.
Karen Hill announced that the campaign had been more successful than was anticipated. She announced that over $30,000 had been raised by the twelve candidates. She was very emotional as she spoke of the campaign that had virtually consumed every spare moment of everyone involved during the prior six weeks.
Then it was time to announce the winners. Third place went to fellow radio broadcaster Kelly Wright from WTRS, Thunder Country. Karen Hill paused before announcing second and first place by telling the audience that the difference in the amounts raised by the first and second place winners was only $4.27.
Whitler recalls, “That’s when I knew we won. I knew because of the twenty seven cents. Robin had added the twenty seven cents to our total as a joke. If the change had been seventy three cents, then I would have known we took second place.”
Whitler was correct. Dr. Manal Fakhoury was declared the second place winner and Whitler was the 2011 Kiss The Horse For Literacy winner.