Recently, I was in New York City for a mini vacation with my family, seeing all of the tourist traps with my kids, who had never been to the big apple. Of course we saw Central Park and the Zoo therein, to see if the animals from Madagascar were hanging out, and we saw FAO Schwartz and Times Square and the Empire State Building. We also went out to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. While touring the island, listening to my pleasant audio guide chattering away on my headphones, I learned of a constituent empowerment campaign from long ago. Let me tell you about it.
The French government extended the gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1876, in recognition of our first 100 years as a nation. The statue was a gift, of course, but America had to come up with the pedestal on which to set the statue. Various efforts, such as events and auctions, were held to raise funds to pay for the pedestal, but these efforts were falling short, since only a certain class of society could afford to contribute to pay the bigger dollars required of these tactics. It looked as if the statue would arrive on our shores without a home to go to, so to speak.
In stepped the owner of the biggest newspaper of the time, The New York World, Joseph Pulitzer. He was astounded that America was so apathetic concerning this magnificent gift. His scathing editorials demanded that America step up and provide a home for such a beautiful work of art. Again, this tactic only achieved so much.
At this point, Pulitzer made his genius move. He promised to publish in his newspaper the name of any individual who contributed any amount to the fund. The money started rolling in.
Pulitzer’s tactics were not exactly the same as what I call constituent empowerment but it is pretty close. He realized that there were a lot of people in the U.S.A. who could help a little bit with the effort, if assured that any amount would help and the donor were properly rewarded.
The Internet and especially social media tools empower constituents to “have their name published” in a way by providing a way to publicly affiliate themselves with a cause for a very modest, oftentimes free, initial investment. Think of the success of cause related wrist-bands as example. Badges on Facebook are another.
We all know humans like their 15 minutes of fame, and most people like to be a part of a movement. What could you offer to your constituents that empowered them to be a part of a movement and achieve a little notoriety in their community or network?
It worked for Pulitzer and it could work for you.
To read a more thorough history, see the excellent National Parks Service site.
Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!