Greenpeace’s optimistic tick-box suggestion: the ‘Stop Thorp’ campaign court case mailing
Worth a try? As it turned out, Greenpeace's high risk form paid off handsomely.
Sellafield is a nuclear processing and former electricity generating site, close to the village of Seascale on the coast of the Irish Sea in Cumbria, England. Previously owned and operated by British Nuclear Fuels plc, since 1 April 2005 it’s been owned by the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
More case studies from Greenpeace
This exhibit works on many levels, which is why SOFII feels it’s a worthy member of our elite ‘best of the best’ showcase. At first glance the reply form opposite looks innocuous enough but really it’s a brilliant illustration of how, in times of need, donors will respond warmly to help a favoured cause when it is clearly in trouble. But first, you have to ask them properly...
Medium of communication:Direct mail.
Type of charity:Environmental/animals.
Target audience:Individuals, major gift, single gift.
Country of origin:UK.
The idea for a tick box asking for the full £250,000 came from Derek Humphries, then MD at Greenpeace’s agency, Burnett Associates. Burnett Associates’ clients at Greenpeace UK were Chris Williams, then head of fundraising, and Jan Chisholm, head of direct marketing. They were brave enough to go with the tick box idea, which many clients would not have had the courage to do. Brave clients get brave work.
Name of exhibitor:Carolina Herrera at SOFII’s homeless section
Date of first appearance:unknown.
To raise money to pay for anticipated court costs.
Mid-way through the 1990s the firm British Nuclear Fuels, which back then ran several nuclear power and processing facilities for the UK government, took legal action against the campaigning organisation Greenpeace, who had been doing everything that they could to frustrate the opening of a new nuclear waste reprocessing facility at Thorp, Sellafield in the north of England. Though massively supported by public opinion, Greenpeace’s lawyers advised the campaigners that the case was unlikely to go anything other than BNFL’s way.
So Greenpeace turned to their supporters and appealed for funds to meet the costs of a court case they believed they were doomed to lose. The anticipated sum that they thought they’d have to fork out to cover legal costs was £250,000. Greenpeace donors responded generously, giving substantially more to the fighting fund than Greenpeace expected they’d be obliged by the Court to pay.
This mailing was also remarkable for the fact that, when creating the appeal for funds, a bright spark in the creative department of Greenpeace’s agency, Burnett Associates, suggested that alongside the usual direct mail prompt boxes for £10, £20, £50 and whatever, for this special appeal Greenpeace should include a prompt box for £250,000.
It seemed a zany idea, but a characteristically cheeky approach from Greenpeace. And it worked, because one donor did give £200,000. We’re still not quite sure why he didn’t give the full quarter of a £million. Mean, I guess.
Greenpeace did lose the case on a point of law, but the judge felt that they had the moral high ground so he awarded costs to the other side of just one penny. Having raised a lot of money that wasn’t needed for the purpose, GP did the only honourable thing and offered donors their money back. Only six took up the offer. (Burnett Associates pointed out to their client at the time, ‘we know where they live’.) The guy who gave two hundred big ones wasn’t among them. He and all the other generous supporters said to Greenpeace something like, ‘Keep it, we trust you to put it to good use’.
So, it can pay you if things don’t quite go according to plan.
Possibly the first time that any major fundraiser has actually asked for such a huge sum via a tick box in an emergency appeal mailing – even if it was tongue-in-cheek.
More than anything, this exhibit is all about the real meaning of ‘brand’. The audacity of the tick box was entirely on brand for Greenpeace. So, as well as working, it didn’t alienate those who couldn’t give that much. And the money back offer did more to build brand trust than almost anything else Greenpeace might have done. So all in all, it was about an organisation wearing its values on its sleeve – and profiting hugely.
As well as generating lots of lovely fan mail, Greenpeace received an additional £16,000 in donations from people who were inspired by the organisation’s honesty in offering the cash back.
A smart example of creative cheek, this really shows the truth in the old adage, 'if you don't ask, you don't get'.
Other relevant information:
Of the six people who asked for their money back, it transpired that four of them had never actually given any (Greenpeace didn’t have time to de-duplicate the givers against the non-givers when they sent the money back offer). Needless to say, their perhaps enterprising attempt to con money out of Greenpeace failed.