Fundraising lessons from Occupy Wall Street

November 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

What can we learn from the money raised by the various Occupy movements around the country? While the headline number is some 350-450 thousand raised by Occupy Wall Street in New York, the other occupations around the country have raised, by my estimate, somewhere between one and three million dollars. They’ve managed this without doing a mailing, or an email campaign, and certainly without approaching major donors (Most major donors are a little too close to the 1% to be comfortable with this movement, I would guess). They just hang out a WePay button on their website and the money came in. They themselves don’t even control the financial apparatus, typically leaving the administration of that to an allied group like the Alliance for Global Justice.

In short, there has been nothing like a traditional effort at “development” or “fundraising.” OWS has raised a decent amount of money, seemingly by accident. Why?

Well, being in the news doesn’t hurt, nor does capturing the popular imagination or the national political mood. But then again you might have guessed that.

They have a strong commitment to transparency on their donation page, even if the execution is a bit sloppy. No surprise there.

They’ve made their ask on the internet, which is the best way to reach a core part of the Occupy demographic – young, connected, creative types. Obvious conclusion – use the right channel to communicate to your donors.

I think that the real lesson to be drawn from Occupy Wall Street, though, returns to the idea of capturing the national mood – and you can implement it for your donors. We live in the age of the 30 minute news cycle – the 24 hour news cycle doesn’t begin to describe the pace at which events unfold nowadays.

Development can learn from OWS by learning to act with speed when fundraising opportunities present themselves. Your PR department shouldn’t be the only ones responding to news related to your organization or art form – your development department should respond with equal alacrity. Imagine if development departments began to develop campaigns not months in advance, but days in advance. This is not to deprecate the value of long term planning, of course, which is still valuable, but more to suggest that Messaging be composed on the new digital timeline, and communications schedules be tweaked on the fly to react to current events.

We know that giving comes more from an emotional response than anything else – so why not integrate PR into your campaigns to maximize that emotional response? Maybe OWS can revolutionize fundraising too.

-Tony

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