We often focus on learning from innovative online campaigns but sometimes we miss out on opportunities to integrate offline cause communities and grassroots advocacy. Road trips are an excellent platform for causes to tell important stories, engage volunteers, and fundraise in an innovative way.
Road trips touch on so many different goals that organizations focus on that it’s hard to believe how few major nonprofits have embraced the road trip campaign strategy. With a bit of savvy planning, road trips can be an innovative vehicle to align with your organization’s goals.
- Creating unique content for your blog and social media presence
- Drawing national attention to an important issue (and a good bit of recognition for your organization the process)
- Building buzz and press for an advocacy action
- Raising funds
- Strengthening your connection to grassroots supporters
- Creating meaningful volunteer opportunities
- Facilitating face-time and team building for your regional staff
- Building local chapters
- Connecting and enriching a national movement
- Recruiting applicants to a fellowship program
Trail-blazing Road Warriors
Mark Horvath - Mark’s work with invisiblepeople.tv telling the stories of homeless individuals across the United States has been well documented. For the past few summers Mark has set off on three month road trips in a vehicles provided by Ford and more recently Chevy. Mark shared his progress around the country in YouTube videos (he’s been featured on the YouTube homepage,) blog posts, and his Twitter feed. He also shared an interactive map on his website so people could track the road trip’s progress visually using a tool called Track My Tour.
Mark’s infectious enthusiasm and evident passion for his cause make him an excellent story teller and his road trips have sparked a national conversation and movement.
Put Solar on It - Put Solar on It is a campaign to encourage world leaders to put solar paneling on their homes. In September 2010 Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, and five Unity College students embarked on a bio-diesel powered road trip to encourage President Obama to restore solar paneling to the White House roof.
Since the original solar panels that President Carter had installed in the 70’s ended up on top of the cafeteria at Unity College in Maine, the Put Solar on It US tour began there. The road trippers also made stops for advocacy events in Boston and New York before concluding in Washington DC. They shared updates on the tour blog, Flickr, and YouTube. 350 also carefully timed the road trip one month before its 10/10/10 Global Work Party in which volunteers challenged world leaders to join them in doing the hard work to create climate solutions. This meant that press from the road trip also contributed to the buzz around the larger event.
The UnRoad Trip - In summer 2009, Boaz Frankel undertook a trip around the United States in 100 non-automobile forms of transportation and The UnRoad Trip was born. Since the epic journey, Boaz’s footage has been worked in to a tv show. You can catch Boaz's trip by unicycle, puppy-pulled longboard, light-raild, and kangaroo jump on Friday nights at 8PM Eastern on Halogen TV or view the first three episodes online. Along the way Boaz met with inventors, entrepreneurs and government leaders and told the story of alternative, sustainable transportation in an interesting way.
Boaz ran his trip as a free agent story teller. He was able to fund his trip largely through corporate sponsors that he recognizes on the UnRoad Trip website. This is exactly the innovative campaign that nonprofits should be getting behind and partner more with creative community members to produce.
Darius Goes West - This project raises awareness and funds for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) research by telling the story of Darius Weems. In Darius Goes West, Darius a fifteen-year-old living with DMD and his crew set out for California in a quest to convince MTV to customize Darius' wheelchair on the hit show, Pimp My Ride.
The road trip footage was made into an award winning film and Darius Goes West is now a registered 501(c)3 organization. Since the initial road trip, Darius and the crew have travelled an additional 100,000 miles hosting screenings and raising awareness for DMD.
Divided We Fall - Organized by author and filmmaker Valarie Kaur, Divided We Fall, told the story of violence and discrimination against Muslim and Sikh Americans in the years since 9/11. The film and road trip led to hundreds of screenings and dialogues where people engaged with the questions DWF raised. In the fall of 2010 the community rallied around a pledge to find common ground and unity in the Charter for Common Ground.
The movement Valarie fostered through her advocacy on the road and in Common Ground has led to the formation of Groundswell, a “new multi-faith initiative that will channel the aspirations of the emerging generation and inspire strategic action for justice” out of Auburn Theological Seminary, which Valarie is now leading.
Here are a few things to think about in planning your journey. Once you have these pieces in place you'll be well on your way.
Wheels - You may not have a vehicle on loan from Ford, but you can reach out to your community to see if anyone has a vehicle they can loan and provide a clear donation opportunity for people to help pay for your gas money by inviting them to fuel your trip by donating $50 for a tank of gas.
Housing - With some creative outreach you can get by on the hospitality of you community crashing in people's guest-rooms and on their couches. Another alternative is to ask people to fund your hotel stays or donate their points in various hotel reward programs. If you're even more adventurous you can try couchsurfing and stay with strangers - people may be intrigued by your journey and choose you over others looking for free hospitality on the site.
Sponsors & Partners - Seek out corporate sponsors who are aligned with your mission to cover some of the road trip costs. Also consider partnering with another organization to co-brand your campaign road trip, especially if you are focusing the trip on an issue or advocacy action that both organizations work on. Too often in our sector a competitive mindset keeps organizations from pursuing valuable partnerships. A co-branded advocacy road trip could help you realize the seed of a larger partnership.
Events - This is where you can engage your volunteers in a big way. Schedule local events in advance along your road trip route. Successful road trip stops might be happy hours, documentary screenings, panel discussions, organizing workshops, site visits, or volunteer trainings.
Hardware - Be sure your road-trippers have the right gear with them on the road. A laptop and camera equipped smart-phones are a must, but also consider bringing hand-held video cameras (Flip or the Kodak Zi8 series are great options) and a mobile hotspot like a Verizon MiFi device with you so you're sure you have web access from the road.
Promote and Share - Share your experience from the road! You'll want to post regular reflections on your blog, and on Twitter and Facebook so people can engage with you along the way. Share pictures, video, Tweets, Facebook posts, and blog reflections from the road. Thank the people who host you, share what you learn, capture interviews with people you meet, and try to give people a flavor for the unique character of your trip (including the mishaps and funny moments!).
Pitch Press - Try to drum up press coverage from local outlets along your route. If you can find a local angle to pitch local outlets with, you may find that the coverage you get along the way ultimately helps you break through to larger press outlets on a national level. See if your communications department can work with you on a press release or if they have the capacity to pitch media outlets in advance for you and maintain communication with press contacts in communities along your route.
Base Camp - It helps to have someone who can serve as your "Eyes in the Sky" who can help coordinate any mishaps along the way for you. This could be anything from googling the nearest rest-stop to re-coordinating the location for the evening’s event or housing when a tour stop venue or the evenings housing arrangement's fall through.
Flexibility and an adventurous spirit - Sometimes even the best laid plans fall through. Not every tour stop will be stellar, you may get lost, you could run out of gas, your message might not play as well as you'd hoped for every audience. When the inevitable happens and you have to adjust your plan, try to learn something from the experience, have a good attitude, and move on.
Over to You
Hitting the trail with just your cause, your story, and the open road is clearly not for everyone. What about you - have you go a world-changing road trip in you? How else can you see organizations getting value out of the road trip platform?
Avi Kaplan is the Online Coordinator, AKA Coordinator of Awesomeness, at Rad Campaign, a firm that provides web design, web development and online marketing and strategy to nonprofit organizations and political campaigns.