Cover Story: Cows and Chickens and Naked Celebs! (Oh My!)
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA. Its approach to getting people’s attention is bold, ballsy, bewitching — and often includes ads that feature celebrities in their birthday suits.
In the name of protecting every animal’s health and well-being, PETA investigates and exposes gruesome practices at slaughterhouses and animal-testing facilities, goes after fast-food meccas like McDonald’s and KFC, and protests any fashionista who thinks wearing fur is chic.
PETA knows that once you have people’s attention, and you have them talking and listening — and thinking — the next logical step is giving. The 28-year-old organization’s catchy slogans, in-your-face ads, and top-notch direct-mail and e-mail campaigns helped it raise a remarkable $31 million-plus in the fiscal year 2006 to 2007.
And it doesn’t hurt that PETA has a history of using its funds efficiently. In that same year, nearly 84 percent of its operating expenses covered programs that fight animal exploitation; only 11.96 percent was spent on fundraising efforts and 4.26 percent went to management and general operations, according to PETA’s Web site.
PETA has the formula figured out, for sure. But it knows that resting on its considerable laurels isn’t an option. Reaching members of every generation, whether they give now or 10 years from now, is paramount, so in addition to multiple sites devoted to cows, fur and going vegetarian, it also hosts sites that cater to both the young and old.
The organization most recently launched PETA Prime, which reaches out to baby boomers — those born in the post-World War II era between 1946 and 1964. Karen Taggart, PETA’s manager of fundraising innovations, is behind the effort, which launched in fall 2008.
“The target demographic is a little older, baby boomers,” Taggart says. “People think this group isn’t online, but they are there paying bills, shopping.”
PETA Prime features photos, blog posts, book reviews, healthy recipes, travel tips and financial information. Visitors are encouraged to chat about family, friends, companion animals, health tips, travel experiences and ideas on saving money.
“Their kids have left home, and they are thinking about what to do next,” Taggart says of this, well, “prime” audience. “Sixty-two now is different than it was 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.
“Boomers grew up in a socially revolutionary time — with Kennedy, Dylan, King. They want to make change and are passionate about it, and they like to give to causes that are important to them,” she adds.
On the other end of the spectrum, PETA has been reaching out to the younger generation with its peta2 site for more than six years.
Joel Bartlett, assistant director of marketing at PETA, says it began with the goal “of making sure every young person is aware that animal cruelty is the most important social-justice cause of our time.”
To engage the Generation Y crowd — which includes those born between 1977 and 1994 — peta2 uses contests, videos and video games, like one where Nugget and Chickette try to save the animal-friendly Pamela Anderson from Col. Sanders.
Most recently, to draw attention to the bevy of birds slaughtered in the name of Thanksgiving, peta2 created a parody of the popular Nintendo game Cooking Mama.
In peta2’s version, Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals, players can pluck a turkey, chop off its head and stuff it to help their mother prepare a Thanksgiving feast.
“It’s great, but it’s not for boomers. The Internet is a place [where] if you don’t belong, you walk out. Those are potential donors walking out,” Taggart says of older visitors who might not appreciate the dark humor of the Cooking Mama send-up.
Taggart says it’s critical for an organization to know its audiences and how each likes to receive and digest material.
“People of the boomer generation [generally] don’t know anything about social-networking sites,” she says. “My mother engages with the Internet in other ways. She e-mails me e-cards or interesting articles. She doesn’t post or share on MySpace. She prints out e-mails and reads them. They keep files of printed out e-mails. That [information is] all very important. It does relate to fundraising.”
As for the peta2 group, Taggart says, its members can be difficult to get a handle on, explaining, “As a fundraiser it’s tough, but you have to have an open mind to the value of someone who doesn’t really give money.”
Bartlett adds that the younger generation is certainly a group to keep an eye on. About 1.4 million people between the ages of 13 and 21 receive PETA’s e-newsletter.
“You’re building a bridge between the person and the organization, which is priceless,” he says. “And we do run microcampaigns on sites like Facebook. If you get a dollar from [each] of these people, it’s a huge amount of money.”
Not all about demographics
Almost every day a person can switch on the news and hear about somebody doing something bad to an animal. For PETA, that means there’s never a shortage of animal issues to hook onto an appeal. So the organization tries to be ready to act as soon as something comes up.
“Unfortunately, there is always some kind of animal-cruelty issue that is going on that we can work with,” Taggart says.
One of the most successful examples of this was a campaign PETA executed during the Beijing 2008 Olympics this past summer. The campaign — attacking the horrific conditions that have been documented on Chinese fur farms — was a blend of direct mail, e-mail, Web site content, video, and a little help from U.S. Olympic swimmer and gold medalist Amanda Beard.
PETA used the Olympics as a springboard to highlight the cruelty at the farms, sending an appeal in the mail followed by multiple e-mail appeals.
The campaign also got an extra kick from a video the organization had released in February 2005 following an undercover investigation that revealed dogs and other animals being skinned alive for their fur at farms in China. Taggart says the video was always popular but experienced a resurgence when PETA launched the campaign during the Olympics. Since its release, the video has been viewed more than 35 million times.
“The popularity of this video is amazing,” Taggart says. “It really had a huge impact on the campaign.”
Just prior to the kickoff of the games in Beijing, PETA unveiled a new anti-fur ad that depicted a naked Beard standing in front of an American flag with the slogan, “Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin. Don’t Wear Fur.”
Steve Kehrli, PETA Foundation development director, says PETA doesn’t share specific campaign numbers but that this campaign was one of its most successful.
Taggart says most of PETA’s donations are generated from direct-mail campaigns, though cash raised from e-mail appeals is increasing. And this year, PETA hopes to jump into mobile fundraising.
Currently, Bartlett says, PETA uses a free service that allows it to send text messages to people but is not involved in any actual mobile fundraising
campaigns. On Black Friday, for example, text messages were sent out wishing people a “Happy Fur-Free Friday.”
“People are out [shopping], so they aren’t checking their e-mails on Black Friday,” Bartlett says. “This is a way to stay relevant. It’s reminding people, if you go out today, don’t buy any fur. You’re staying in touch with potential donors.”
PETA’s success has to do with its no-fear approach to taking risks, trying new things, and communication and teamwork within the organization.
Bartlett, whose department is responsible for getting the organization’s mission out over the Internet, says communication between PETA’s marketing and fundraising departments really is key. Of the organization’s
173 employees, 26 are dedicated to fundraising.
Everything Bartlett’s department does is about cultivation, he says, explaining, “We open up the wall by letting people know what the organization is doing. We bring people in by posting action alerts, sending out messages, and then we build on that. That’s the foundation for fundraising.”
“It’s very important that marketing and fundraising work together,” Bartlett adds.
When a person answers a call to action — for example, agreeing to ditch fur or go veg — that person begins receiving weekly news and other information, he says. That person also starts receiving appeals.
“The actions have to be coordinated,” he adds. “We get the message out over the Internet, and [the fundraising team] handles asks and appeals. It’s crucial that you take a holistic approach. Marketing and fundraising must work hand in hand. You can’t just ask for money. You have to give them a reason to come and be a part of your mission.”
Kehrli echoes that message: “I think my advice to [organizations big and small] is to think big and plan it out.”
“Talk to others at your organization from all different levels, and listen closely to your donors,” he adds. “Some of our best fundraising initiatives have come from the suggestion of a donor or a junior staffer outside of development.”
Asked to sum up PETA’s fundraising success, Kehrli says it boils down to simplicity.
“One of the keys to our success has been that in everything we do to raise money, we always tie it back to our main purpose as an organization,” he says.
“We are not here to raise money for the sake of raising money; we are striving every day to better the lives of as many animals as possible. The success of our fundraising translates directly to helping more animals. It’s really that simple.”