Greenpeace USA fundraisers like Bill Richardson, who works with big donors, aren’t always provided details about the political stunts the group is planning. The more people who know about the actions — which can include blocking oil tankers and displaying protest flags on corporate and government buildings — the greater the likelihood they’ll be compromised, the thinking goes. "That’s part of the nature of working at Greenpeace," Mr. Richardson said.
So when seven activists for the organization climbed an almost 300-foot crane near the White House on Wednesday and unfurled a large banner with the word "resist" on it, Mr. Richardson had to act on the fly.
Pictures of the banner, which appeared to hang almost directly above the White House, went viral quickly. "That picture painted 1,000 words," Mr. Richardson said. "It said it all."
Mr. Richardson fired off about 70 individual emails that morning to some of the group’s bigger donors about the protest. About half replied — the biggest reaction he can remember for a high-profile protest in recent years.
Mr. Richardson says he hasn’t seen any major gifts come in yet from the protest but says the action provided a good touchpoint to speak with big donors and sparked more enthusiastic replies than usual. "They are writing and saying, ‘Thank you for restoring my hope,’" he says.
The event may provide a case study for how organizations can respond quickly to breaking news — even if they don’t create the news themselves.
Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Karen Topakian, the group’s board chair, posted a Facebook live video after climbing about 100 feet on the crane. "It was a little chilly when we arrived at the crane site," she said to those watching. "But it was a lot chillier in the Oval Office when President Trump decided to sign those executive orders" to restart two major oil pipelines and stop funding to international groups that provide abortions.
By Friday morning, the video had received more than 10,000 comments and 19,000 likes and other reactions — the vast majority of them positive.
The group’s online team started posting on Facebook and Twitter quickly Wednesday morning, too, and added a photo of the protest banner to the top of its homepage. It also sent out an email to supporters notifying them of the protest.
The organization also retweeted and shared posts from outlets like CBS News and Rolling Stone.
The protesters stayed on the crane into the evening.
Shana McMahon, the organization’s online strategist, said her team always tries to include messages during protests that allow people who are not involved to take action. For instance, some of its posts Wednesday linked to a pledge "to resist and rise up" to protect the environment and minority and women’s rights.
Currently, Greenpeace’s website asks visitors to "join the activists who delivered a message of love and progress to counter Trump’s hate and ignorance at the White House" along with a link to the same pledge. In the upper left-hand corner of the website is a box with information on how to get involved that includes a donation link.
During the protest, the online team didn’t send direct donation appeals because it was mostly focused on introducing people to Greenpeace and acquiring emails and contact information. Over the next week or two, new supporters will be sent introductory information about Greenpeace and a survey that will ask them how they want to get involved, said Ryan Schleeter, an online content producer. Eventually they’ll receive donation appeals, too, with the organization seeking to gain as many monthly donors as possible.
"We think of what happened Wednesday as sort of a beginning to the arc of a supporter experience," Mr. Schleeter said.
Another goal for the online team: responding to hundreds of people online who had questions about getting involved, which the team will do over next few days. "A lot of the posts are still accumulating comments," Mr. Schleeter noted.
For major donors, Mr. Richardson said, he’s continuing to speak with some donors who were particularly excited about the protest. Emails about the action were still trickling in Friday morning, he said. "There’s still a lot of good feeling about it," he said.
He said one of the challenges will be to ensure the organization can communicate how it plans to win on various issues. He said most of its victories will come in the form of blocking the Trump administration from rolling back environmental regulations.
The group will also likely still be able to wield influence over corporations that make unsound environmental choices.
Mr. Richardson said he thinks Mr. Trump will continue to get people fired up about environmental issues, because the "threats" he poses are so immediate.
Mr. Trump "has definitely been a huge wakeup call to more than half the people in this country who didn’t vote for him," he said adding that the high attendance at the recent Women’s March on Washington and protests across the country show that there is an appetite for activism.
For Mr. Schleeter, the organization’s stance toward the Trump administration is embodied in the new social-media hashtag the group rolled out Wednesday: #ResistOften.
"You will see more of this," he said of Wednesday’s protest.