February 28, 2011

A Small Charity Benefits From 'The King's Speech'

The King's Speech, a period drama about a royal stutterer in World War II, won Best Picture and other accolades at the Academy Awards last night.

But perhaps the most noteworthy speech came from the film's writer David Seidler. At the end of his acceptance for the Oscar for best original screenplay: "I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. We have a voice. We have been heard."

That's exactly the kind of message Jane Fraser, the president of the Stuttering Foundation, wanted to hear after an Oscar-campaign season that's brought attention to the Memphis, Tenn., charity and garnered thousands of dollars from the increased attention to how stuttering can be overcome. "We're on Cloud 9," Ms. Fraser said. "I had a great feeling."

That great feeling was spurred on by the donations that have come in to the charity, which operates a helpline and provides services to stutterers worldwide, since the film's release.

Ms. Fraser said donations in January increased 10 percent from that same month in 2010. In February the Stuttering Foundation of America received $25,000 in donations versus the $10,000 it received in February 2010. "So that's tremendous," she says. "We've seen an increase in new donations. Something like 80 percent from last week, from people that had never donated before."

Her organization's ties to the film started at an early December fund-raising event in London for kids who stutter.

Colin Firth, who plays King George VI in the film, was there, and the event brought in $35,000.

"That really kicked it off," Ms. Fraser says.

She said the film's staff members have been supportive of its endeavors to promote awareness of stuttering and the movie by providing any photos that the charity needed.

An aggressive publicity campaign quickly materialized through radio and print. The foundation's advertisements, with the tag "As portrayed in 'The King's Speech,'" were printed free by Popular Mechanics, AARP, Time magazine, and The New York Times magazine. The charity has also received some 12,000 radio mentions, Ms. Fraser says.

To ride the tide of goodwill, the Stuttering Foundation plans to send a commemorative newsletter, with articles on Mr. Seidler and Mr. Firth, along with a donor envelope, to the charity's supporters this year, Ms. Fraser says. "What's really thrilling for us is that people are talking about stuttering openly. That's phenomenal."

Some 68 million people suffer from stuttering worldwide, according to the foundation.

Did the Stuttering Foundation's efforts to publicize stuttering as well as the movie help secure the Oscars win? "I hope so," Ms. Fraser says. "It would be nice to think that!"