A fundraising rebuild
Greenpeace’s cause was big in the environmentally aware ’80s and ’90s.
“1992 was the first Earth summit in Rio, so I think the issue had resonance, and environmental awareness was very high, and Greenpeace sort of rode that,” Sherrington says.
But as environmentalism became mainstream under the Clinton/Gore administration and the concept of recycling took off, there was a perception on the part of the public that progress had been made and the country was nearing a “solution” to its environmental woes.
That shift, compounded by internal factors, such as weak fundraising management, led to dwindling income and donor numbers for Greenpeace, and signaled the need for a fundraising face-lift.
The organization relied heavily on a canvass operation, with staff across the country going door to door recruiting supporters, and a high-volume direct-mail program.
Though membership to Greenpeace USA was up to 1 million, the canvass operation was barely covering the costs to run the program. As part of
budget cuts, it was closed down in the late ’90s, eliminating Greenpeace’s valuable grassroots presence.
To make matters worse, in 2002, the organization faced problems with the conversion from an old database to a more sophisticated one. It wasn’t fully prepared for the conversion, and business processes weren’t properly understood or implemented, which affected the profitability of acquisition efforts and the ROI of others. Acquisition into monthly giving and DRTV were among the programs that suffered and were cut back, Sherrington says, adding that turnover in the fundraising team was high.
Almost a year after the database conversion, in late 2003, Sherrington was recruited from Greenpeace U.K. to perform much-needed surgery on Greenpeace USA’s direct-marketing and retention programs. He worked with vendors to fix the database and change the way the staff viewed it.
“Previously, the database was this box, and if it didn’t work, people thought there was a problem with the box. Fundamentally, it was about everybody in the department understanding that they were responsible for the business processes associated with the database and how well they worked it,” Sherrington says.