Saving the Planet 2.0
What do leatherback turtles, burning forests and Harrison Ford all have in common?
They're the key components of some very successful marketing campaigns launched by Conservation International, a nonprofit organization missioned to protect the richest regions of plant and animal diversity in 34 international biodiversity hot spots, wilderness areas and marine ecosystems.
With headquarters in Arlington, Va., CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. Last year, it distributed more than $30 million in funding to its partners to implement conservation activities. And over the past six years, it has provided more than $97 million to fund more than 1,200 nongovernmental groups, as well as small businesses that employ nearly 15,000 local people.
Lost there, felt here
To raise awareness about the effect of deforestation on global warming, the organization recently launched its "Lost There, Felt Here" campaign.
"What people might not know is that the burning and flashing of forests for crop land and things like that actually contributes 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which greatly affect climate change," says Vinnie Wishrad, senior director of community and membership at CI. "If we can do something about that, we can curb a big component of climate change."
The campaign centers around giving people the option to donate $15 to "protect an acre" of forestland to stop climate change. They also can donate more acres in $15 increments.
According to CI, the donations support scientists and project teams in tropical forest areas around the world where deforestation is most prevalent, such as Madagascar, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and Colombia.
To donate, people can go to CI's Web site -- www.conservation.org -- click on the "Lost There, Felt Here" icon featuring an image of campaign spokesman Harrison Ford and then click on a highlighted square box in the center of a grid with a forest backdrop. The box takes visitors to a landing page that enables them to donate online with a credit card. Visitors also can mouse-over the square-acre boxes to see their names and the number of acres they've given.
Austin, Texas-based Convio, an Internet software and services company that works exclusively with nonprofit organizations, is the vendor CI chose to help process this information.
"Most of the donation information -- besides the credit card information -- is being captured in Convio's system, where it is permanently stored and initially captured," Wishrad says. "Indirectly, Convio is storing the information that shows in the grid."
For all of its campaigns, CI relies on a variety of tools from Convio, including e-mail marketing, fundraising, surveys, widgets, the company's PageBuilder content management solution and its Convio Connector, which syncs CI's offline Raiser's Edge donor database -- a Blackbaud product -- with Convio's database.
As a viral component of the campaign, visitors also can participate by becoming ambassadors for change; the site offers ideas for actions such as cutting a square into a T-shirt, mowing a square onto a lawn or creating donuts with square centers to represent lost forests.
Ford -- who sits on the board of directors of the environmental organization -- even got into the act, having his chest waxed in a square shape in a public service announcement that can be seen on CI's Web site or YouTube. The PSA will run on both sites until the end of the year.
In fact, the entire campaign will run through the end of the year and include additional phases, although what those phases are is under discussion right now, Wishrad says.
A week after launching, the Ford video had 90,000 hits on YouTube, according to Wishrad, thanks in part to the fact that the star mentioned it when he visited "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in May to promote "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
But, as of June 5, there were 178,342 views of the PSA on YouTube, according to Wishrad, who explains that "all the views took place after Leno, but not necessarily because of Leno."
"We [had] just launched the campaign when Harrison mentioned it on Leno," he explains. "The traffic to YouTube has come from lots of different places."
Since CI does not have a big paid media budget, it relied heavily on viral marketing in this campaign. As a result, it created an "intentionally unusual PSA concept," says Rachel Ahrens, manager of community and membership for CI. The concept was created by the organization's advertising agency of record, BBDO Worldwide, and BBDO's digital marketing division, Atmosphere.
While the integrated marketing campaign clearly is a branding opportunity for CI, there also are many opportunities within the campaign for the organization to track donations. For example, it has a relationship with MSN, which will help promote the campaign in banner ads on its MSN Green Web site (http://green.msn.com), a green-oriented portal, according to Wishrad. CI will be able to keep track of visitors that go to the "Lost There, Felt Here" landing pages from these ads.
"We also did a big Google AdWords buy around all of this, where we purchased thousands of words such as ‘forests' and ‘Harrison Ford,'" Wishrad says.
The organization also is using e-mail marketing to promote the cause. It currently has 110,000 subscribers to its monthly e-newsletter, and it included information about the "Lost There, Felt Here" campaign in its May edition. The e-mail also allowed subscribers to tell a friend about the campaign.
While this campaign is fairly sophisticated, CI launched aggressive community-building and fundraising efforts only about three years ago.
At that time, it invested in staff and technology and, says Ahrens, "has seen amazing results." "We have grown our online subscribers by over 2,000 percent and have increased online giving by 800 percent in three years," she says.
Ahrens says CI needed to build its subscriber list and get people engaged in conservation issues before it would see great fundraising success.
"Conservation can be complicated and technical sometimes," she explains. "CI wanted to show our constituents that conservation can be simple; part of their daily routine. So, we've focused most of our efforts over the last three years on getting people involved and engaging them in fun, interactive campaigns designed to introduce our issues."
She adds that most of the nonprofit's list growth was a result of a highly successful and multifaceted campaign called the "Great Turtle Race," which was a combined effort of the following organizations: Tagging of Pacific Predators, The Leatherback Trust, Conservation International and MINAE Costa Rica.
The campaign centered on an international sea turtle "race" built around the creatures' natural annual migration, with the goal of drawing attention to leatherback turtles -- an endangered species.
The 950-mile swimming race in the Pacific Ocean -- which took place for 14 days in April 2007 -- stretched from Costa Rica to the Galapagos Islands. Eleven large leatherback turtles took part in the race, and a leatherback named Billie was the winner.
Each turtle was sponsored by participating companies such as Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, GITI Tire, Plantronics, Travelocity, West Marine and Yahoo, which hosted the race online at www.greatturtlerace.com.
Companies paid $25,000 to sponsor a turtle. The money paid for satellite tags that tracked the progress of the turtles and also was put into a fund to protect the turtles' nesting beach. People could go on the site to choose a favorite turtle or view an interactive animation of the leatherbacks' journey. The site was updated each day, so people could follow the progress of their turtles. They also could view blogs by scientists, or a character known as Mr. Leatherback, who followed the race.
To create buzz around the race, CI created an online baseball card about each turtle on the site and also did international press. These viral techniques worked: Before the race took place, 6,000 people had signed up to support their favorite leatherback turtles.
CI named one of the turtles after political satirist Stephen Colbert -- actually, the turtle was called "Stephanie Colburtle, the Leatherback Turtle" -- with the hope that the faux news anchor would take notice. It was a smart move: Colbert heard about it and discussed the race on his television show for four nights in a row last April. He also showed CI's URL.
After Colbert discussed the site, an additional 10,000 people logged on. The organization then began promoting it virally online. It posted humorous videos about the race -- including ones featuring Mr. Leatherback and one about Colbert -- on YouTube. One of CI's partners, Yahoo, also promoted the race on its sites via banner ads. And CI launched a MySpace page about the race.
"We ended up with 54,000 subscribers, 700,000 unique visitors and 2.5 million page views. It was through the roof for us," Wishrad says, adding that CI "was able to convert 5 [percent] to 10 percent of those folks into donors."
How so? As soon as the race was over, he says, CI sent e-mail messages to new visitors inviting them to join the community and promoting CI's marine initiatives.
Social networking sites
Ahrens says that CI recently created a presence on Facebook. Using Convio's new Facebook application tool -- which allows organizations to integrate Facebook into their Convio-powered campaigns -- "we've created a thriving space for conservationists to share ideas, take action and stay up-to-date on CI's work," she says.
While Wishrad believes CI benefits from using sites like Facebook, he doesn't view them primarily as fundraising tools.
"While Facebook works great as a branding tool, I would warn against it for actual fundraising," he says. "It's really not the best use of your resources if you are actively trying to get donors."