It sounds like something out of a movie. Hot on the trail of pirate fishermen illegally casting nets off the coast of West Africa in April, activists aboard Greenpeace vessel The Esperanza overtook the ship and occupied its mast and cranes for six days before Spanish officials intervened and declared its cargo illegal.
One of the mast clingers was Celeste Stewart, manager of Greenpeace’s mid-donor program, serving a three-month stint as assistant cook on The Esperanza. How many organizations do you know of whose development staff spend their downtime chasing pirate ships?
Not many. But this is what Greenpeace is all about — talking the talk and walking the walk.
It all started when a group of American and Canadian journalists and activists, inspired by the Quaker ideology of bearing witness to social problems, banded together and sailed a small vessel to protest the U.S. government’s testing of nuclear weapons beneath the island of Amchitka off the coast of Alaska in 1971. Their coalition — then called the Don’t Make a Wave Committee — sparked the beginnings of Greenpeace, an organization that 35 years later has 40 offices internationally and takes on some of the world’s most powerful political and corporate entities in the name of protecting the planet.
Protesting everything from nuclear testing to ocean dumping of toxic and radioactive waste, to whaling and the destruction of ancient forests has brought the organization up against governments and corporations worldwide — one reason why Greenpeace doesn’t solicit corporate or political funding. As explained in the organization’s 2004/2005 Annual Report, “Financial independence is core to our work and one of our greatest strengths. It gives us the ability to take on environmental destruction wherever and whenever it occurs.”
It’s no wonder then that Matthew Sherrington, director of development for Greenpeace USA, is known as a maverick. Reliance on individual gifts from its more than 2.7 million members worldwide has forced Sherrington’s team to the forefront of fundraising innovation. Concepts such as monthly giving and direct dialogue, alien to most U.S. nonprofits, are the organization’s lifeblood. And while its trek to the cutting edge of development hasn’t been without setbacks and challenges, Greenpeace has found success incorporating its action-oriented mission into its fundraising and DRM.