The amazing lightning success of the Atheist Bus Campaign (read my post, and post on the speed of donations by justgiving – graph underneath), which has so far collected £58,000 in a day and a half and keeps going up, requires some explanation.
An online campaigner has already written about which lessons online campaigners and fundraisers can learn from it. The main idea is that fundraising and campaigning should go together. He mentions four points around this:
- Starting trying to integrate donations as a campaigning action.
- Link donations the success of the campaigning action: it is up to supporters to make it happen.
- Be prepared for success (I don’t know if the British Humanist Society is) and for supporters to have a more ambitious vision that the organisation.
- Tell your fundraisers: campaigning can be income generating.
So, I would like to develop further and try to explain this overwhelming success:
1. Use of “traditional media” (online though):
* Writer and comedian Ariane Sherine wrote an article in the Guardian’s Comment is Free in June 2008. Its impact was probably low, but there was at least one person who read it avidly and acted upon it, poltical blogger and campaigner Jon Worth (more on his actions later).
* Ariane Sherine used again in October 2008 the Guardian’s Comment is Free to make public the successful Atheist Bus Campaign.
* This presence in the traditional media, which gathers most of online newsreaders, is necessary to get the wider audience, and make the story and the campaign trustworthy.
2. Use of online media:
* When Jon Worth read Ariane story he posted about it and did a mock up of The Bus with Ariane’s slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life”. Three weeks later he opened a pledge on PledgeBank. This pledge was “I will pay £5 towards the campaign to put an atheist advert on the side of a London bus but only if 4,678 other people anywhere will do the same.” So the objective was to get 4,678 people to pay £5 in order to get the necessary money to pay for the advertisements on the buses. Unfortunately, it only attracted 877 people. Some problems with it were that it limited that donation to £5 – in the current campaign some people have donated up to £750! –, it didn’t have any “celebrity endorsement” (more on this later), and (maybe because of the latter) it didn’t have much impact on the traditional media – yet in a Facebook comment, Ariane Sherine says that “The original Pledgebank page was created to see how many people would be willing to donate, and its success encouraged us to launch an official campaign. We initially thought we would need 4,680 atheists to contribute, but we now only need 1,100 to each donate £5 and we can have 30 bendy buses travelling across London for four weeks with the ad (pictured) on the side.” Now, this makes me think that a couple of sparks are always necessary to set a fire.
* For the new campaign, Ariane Shering, Jon Worth and others have created a website and a Facebook group. These do not have a huge impact on wide audience, however it is essential to construct networks between people and pass the message. The Facebook has at this moment 4,099 members! and the website reached 15,000 individual visitors in a day (so many that the hosting company contacted Jon Worth to see what was going on – more here!). It also gives the campaign identity and builds trust for other people to believe the message.
* A donation page was opened in Justgiving. This is essential to make the campaign tangible and to make possible the realization of the objectives. This is at the core of the success, without it the campaigners wouldn’t have a penny in such a short time and with so little resources.
3. Organizational support.
* The British Humanist Association agreed to use its name for the campaign and administer all donations. This is essential to give trust to the donor, create identity and, more importantly, deal with all legal and administrative matters. As a charity, it can administer all donations without having to go through painful red tape. Furthermore, its established organization network will help to build up the campaign into something more ambitious.
4. The Dawkins Factor
* Professor Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, is officially supporting the Atheist Bus Campaign, and agreed to match the first £5,500.
* It is a big deal of money, but more importantly, the Dawkins’s endorsement is the ultimate credibility maker. It has helped enormously in making this campaign unique and very special. People can relate to it through Dawkins and his book.
* There is also the “celebrity factor”, traditional and new media are attracted like bees to celebrities, because people are more likely to read a story if there is one in there. A well-known name in a news story guarantees a good deal of readership. Running the story with Richard Dawkins’s name helps in attracting large audiences.
5. Tangibility (or “gripability”):
* The Atheist Bus campaign is very tangible, a bus with an ad promoting atheism. The donor knows where his/her money will go, and many expect to see the fruit of his/her money with his/her eyes (many people are asking to bring this campaign to their cities in the comments next to the donations). Once the trust is built between the campaigners and the audience through the factors mentioned previously, this tangibility (or “gripability”, for you can get the get the grip of it) facilitates the ultimate step, that is, to give money, which is what eventually the campaigners are seeking on the practical side (aside the ideological aspect of the campaign).
These are so far my ideas on the subject. I am looking forward to your comments and criticisim. I will probably develop more on this, for this is only “a first reckoning”.
UPDATE: I reckon I forgot a very important point: the cause itself. The atheist cause proves to be strong and well supported by thousands of people. When they get the information and have the appropriate structures for action, the cause and those supporting it prove to be quite powerful.
Alejandro Ribo-Labastida, DPhil student, Oxford Internet Institute