As Toyota hits the halfway point in its 100 Cars for Good program, which awards vehicles to non-profits, three Kentucky organizations have won.
Last year, 11 of the 100 vehicles went to non-profits in Kentucky, making it the state receiving the highest number. Because of that, Toyota launched this year's program earlier by inviting last year's winners to its sprawling Georgetown assembly plant.
While Kentucky has its work cut out to maintain that achievement, the program continues to raise the profile of non-profits that might otherwise not have that kind of national reach.
"Since it's the second year of the program, I think it's probably gotten the attention of a lot more organizations," said Toyota spokesman Rick Hesterberg in Georgetown in theorizing why Kentucky groups are having a tougher go of it this year.
Plus, the 11 non-profits that won last year have to wait three years to enter the contest again.
The automaker accepted entries earlier this year and culled them to 500 finalists. The company features five each day on its Facebook page, with the top vote-getter receiving a new ride and runners-up getting $1,000 grants.
Nineteen Kentucky organizations were selected among the 500 finalists. Three of 11 featured in votes have been winners. They are Clark County Community Services in Winchester, Franklin County Humane Society in Frankfort and Girl Scouts of Kentucky's Wilderness Road in Lexington.
For Clark County Community Services, the vehicle will mean an end to requiring that staffers and volunteers use their own vehicles to pick up donations for the organization's thrift store or to deliver meals to seniors, executive director Judy Crowe said.
"I think you can hang on to your volunteers better when you can tell them to park their car and hop in," she said.
The group will put its logo on the Tundra pickup it receives.
"With the senior adults we're serving, it adds a lot to their security to know they're opening the door to us when they can see our signage," Crowe said.
Volunteers promoted the organization during the vote using Facebook connections and by turning it into a competition of sorts against Tennessee. In the final hours, the group trailed a children's advocacy center in Blountville, Tenn.
Crowe said she called alumni of the University of Kentucky and other state schools and said, "You really don't want Tennessee to beat us, do you?
"I think that stirred up some last-minute votes that helped us. They weren't going to let Tennessee beat Kentucky."
The Girl Scouts of Kentucky's Wilderness Road organization had a multistage plan prepared, said fund development manager Susan Douglas.
The organization promoted the vote in its May and June e-newsletters and on its four Facebook pages.
On the day of the vote, staffers sent Facebook messages to people "to make sure we got as many to vote as we possibly could."
Emails went out at 10 a.m. and 2 and 8 p.m. The organization also paid a small amount to buy banner ads on the Web site of CBS affiliate WKYT, which graciously doubled the frequency of what they purchased, Douglas said.
"We promoted very diligently all day," she said.
Hoping for some celebrity rub, the group also tweeted details of the vote to famous former Girl Scouts including journalist Katie Couric, first lady Michelle Obama and actress Ashley Judd. Douglas said they weren't sure if any retweeted the information.
The organization plans to use its Toyota Tundra pickup at its camps, which were visited by 3,337 girls and adults in 2011.
"The truck we have now is not big enough to pull anything," Douglas said.
The new vehicle will be available for camp emergencies and to haul heavy equipment and items like canoes and small sailboats for programs.
And that's the difference Toyota knows it's making, Hesterberg said.
"Through the years of contributing and working with non-profit organizations, we've come to understand the difference a new car or truck can make in an organization," he said. "We're pleased to have that opportunity again to make an impact."
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz