MDA Technologies Group: Helping Get More Toys to More Tots

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By Peter Lineberry

USMC teddy bear

It’s far from the Christmas season, so the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program may not be at the forefront of our minds. From October through December, Marines around the country collect new, unwrapped toys that are dropped off at designated businesses and public venues and distribute them to less fortunate children in their communities. Almost 500 million toys have been donated in this manner since the charitable foundation began.

In the meantime, however, Toys for Tots’ website is always up and running, and thanks to a long partnership with Woodbridge-based MDA Technologies Group, toysfortots.org has become much more user-friendly and visually appealing. As a result, online donations skyrocketed and now number in the millions annually.

Tim Jackson, MDA’s President, CEO and founder, is proud of the work done by his company’s mix of website developers, graphic designers, database programmers and other computer-savvy experts. In 2006 MDA was named Business of the Year by the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce as well as one of the “Virginia Fantastic 50” fastest growing companies. Over the years It has created numerous technology solutions for hospitals, businesses and the U.S. military.

But Toys for Tots remains one of MDA’s biggest success stories and Jackson, himself a Marine Corps veteran, is happy to share the news. “Toys for Tots is a wonderful organization,” said Jackson. “They had a specific set of goals for their online presence which fit our expertise and experience. Their major goal was to increase online donations through their website. With careful planning and collaboration, we were able to help them realize their goals.”

Bearing with Achievement

The working relationship between MDA and Toys for Tots, which is headquartered in Triangle, VA, began in 2006 when an employee referral led to a presentation of website redesign ideas. The charity’s original website was pedestrian and lacked pictures or graphics suggesting a recognizable brand. While it generated about $750,000 in online donations over the previous five years, according to MDA, it was “not the image they wanted to portray.”

MDA solved that issue and in the process created a new icon: a teddy bear dressed similar to the Marine Corps Dress Blue uniform. Combined with the original Toys for Tots logo of a child’s red train (which was developed by Disney in 1948), it instantly gave the website a fresh look. Clicking on the bear to easily make a donation helped as well. As a result, 2006 donations totaled more than $1.5 million–doubling the amount raised from 2001-2005.

The next few years saw refinements to the website’s home page, with MDA taking a more whimsical and less military approach. But their ursine creation remained a hit. “The bear, over time, has become a rock star,” Jackson noted. “We’d go out and support [Toys for Tots’] conferences they’d have each year to bring new coordinators in, and we’d take a big poster of the bear and people wanted their picture taken with the bear.”

By 2008 online donations had doubled again, to nearly $3 million, and Jackson points out that this coincided with the beginning of the housing recession. This figure held steady for the next several years, while the home page underwent further changes, such as the inclusion of a “Donate in Memory or Honor of” apparatus.

But MDA’s expertise goes well beyond the aesthetics of what is seen on one’s computer. Each year, following a successful holiday campaign, MDA would analyze where webpage visitors were located, how long they stayed on each page and what they did when they were there. Jackson and others would share their findings with Toys for Tots, which helped shape goals for the following year.

Because the bulk of the charity’s work is conducted by more than 700 regional coordinators in all 50 states, MDA saw the need for continuity across the country. Thus in recent years they helped create local websites for each coordinator organization, easily accessed through the main website via a drop-down menu, that used the main page as a template but could also post local news and information.

“I can say that the expertise and advice [of MDA]provided the springboard for Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to fully enter into the world of online donations,” said Brian Murray, Toys for Tots Vice President of Operations. “We are fortunate to have the U.S. Marine Corps, the Christmas holiday season, and children as the three legs of our charity ‘stool’, and with the development of both national and local websites, began with MDA Technologies, the program is firmly entrenched in the minds of millions of caring Americans.”

A Local and Nationwide Presence

MDA ended its partnership with Toys for Tots last year, having taken the site to unprecedented success. However, Jackson and his skilled team maintain their behind-the-scenes internet chops with many other local clients, including the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, the Greater Prince William Community Health Center, and the Town of Dumfries. With branches in Georgia and Michigan, the company is also well-positioned to continue work with the federal government, state and local governments and commercial businesses.

But their work with Toys for Tots remains special. “We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done,” Jackson said. “We took them to where they wanted to be over the 9-year period that we were involved.”

For more information about MDA Technologies Group and its many online specialties, please visit mdatech.com. And of course, toysfortots.org to see how easy it is to directly brighten the lives of needy youngsters in our area.

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