The Nature Conservancy Trumpets Elephant Advocacy Through Multichannel Marketing


Weighing up to 11 tons, African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet, according to The Nature Conservancy. Despite the animal’s massive stature, it’s diminutive in terms of population size. The number of African elephants dropped from approximately 1.2 million in 1980 to 430,000 in 2014, according to the conservation organization. And the death toll is rising. The nonprofit also reports that about 30,000 elephants are killed every year.

The population plummet is primarily attributable to increased demand for elephants’ ivory tusks in Asian markets. To help put an end to that trade, The Nature Conservancy sought a way to generate buzz and funding for elephant conservation, as well as reach people who loved elephants but weren’t engaging in conservation efforts—or “elephant lovers on the bench,” as Misty Herrin, marketing director for the African program at The Nature Conservancy, puts it.

“We’re starting to see indications within conservation that global attention on the elephant poaching crisis is starting to really nudge leaders around the world to take more action,” Herrin says. “So we felt that we should do our part to really help grow that noise.”

But there were a few challenges. First, The Nature Conservancy had to find meaningful and enjoyable ways that people could help with its conservation efforts from afar. The organization also needed to stand out from other nonprofits, as well as communicate poaching issues without scaring people off.

After considering feedback from members, donors, and message boards, The Nature Conservancy found that there were people who cared about elephants but didn’t want to see graphic pictures from killings. A year’s worth of Facebook page activity also showed the nonprofit that elephant content outperformed all other forms of animal content combined. However, if the content addressed elephant issues—such as poaching—people would like the content, but they wouldn’t share it. Yet, if the content was “emotionally palpable,” then people would pass it on to their social circles, Herrin says.

So instead of focusing on scare tactics, The Nature Conservancy decided to start a conversation around how people could spread the word about and participate in elephant conservation. To ensure that its audience would be all-ears, the nonprofit launched a two-year multichannel initiative called #SaveElephants on June 26.

“[There’s] more and more research showing that different people want to be on different platforms,” Herrin says. “If we want to expand the pool of people who [are] engaged in protecting elephants, we’re going to have to go to where those people are.”

Building the trunk of the campaign:

Although The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit, Herrin sought out an agency that had only worked with for-profit brands. “I wanted to market this in a way that products are marketed…. Donors are also buying something. We’re buying a feeling that we’re making a difference for the things that we care about,” she says.

The organization selected digital agency Carrot Creative to help it market differently. Carrot Creative built a microsite to act as the campaign’s “home base,” Herrin says. At the top of the site is a field for visitors to enter their email address. As visitors scroll down, The Nature Conservancy’s campaign message unfolds—featuring the campaign’s mission and motivations, as well as what the organization is doing to protect elephants and how people can help. The site also features social sharing content—such as GIFS—and a button that directs visitors back to the email address acquisition field at the top of the site.

“This provided us with an opportunity upfront to get those hand raisers to become advocates, get them actively involved in what’s going on through social, and try to [encourage] sign ups for The Conservancy,” says Matthew Indellicati, account executive for Carrot Creative.


Getting wild with email

After visitors input their email addresses, they receive monthly assignments, or “action alerts,” on how they can help spread the word about or donate to elephant conservation efforts. For instance, an upcoming assignment will ask subscribers to create an “elegram.” To complete the challenge users will have to create an elephant through any artistic art form, take a photo of it, and share it along with the hashtag #SaveElephants. The goal is obtain 20,000 elephant creations by next Mother’s Day—one for each baby elephant born into “the worst poaching crisis in history” each year, Herrin explains. The Nature Conservancy has also recruited challenge donors who will contribute a certain sum per elegram if the organization reaches its goal.

Email allows The Nature Conservancy to reach existing members and donors who tend to skew a bit older than those on social channels, Herrin says. In addition, she says that email helps the organization deepen relationships with people, such as by converting someone from a Facebook like to a subscriber who is more active, more committed, and seeks out more information.

“It’s a hierarchy of communication,” Herrin says. 

Creating a herd

However, that’s doesn’t mean that social isn’t a priority for The Nature Conservancy. Herrin says that #SaveElephants primarily targets women between the ages of 18 to 34 for two reasons: most of the nonprofit’s African elephant supporters are female and the nonprofit already has established relationships with older women. But if the organization wants to target these younger women, it will have to find them where they roam. 

In addition to posting content on its already established Facebook and Twitter accounts, The Nature Conservancy recently launched Instagram and Tumblr presences. “We really wanted this conversation, this movement to happen out on social where people are,” Herrin says.

Herrin recognizes that each channel is like its own species—with a diet for a particular audience and a certain type of content. So the organization’s approach is to put the right content type on each channel. For example, news stories about elephant poaches work best on Twitter, while images of African wildlife and scenery are more appropriate for Instagram, she explains.

In addition to being more social, The Nature Conservancy is forming strategic partnerships that help with its fundraising efforts. For instance, the organization joined forces with Martin & Co—an acoustic guitar maker that started phasing out the inclusion of ivory on its instruments back in the 1970s. Martin & Co. donated custom guitars signed by artists to contribute to the organization’s fundraising efforts.

Results that are anything but gray

Less than a week into the campaign, The Nature Conservancy has already seen its fair share of successes. According to Herrin, #SaveElephant’s landing page was the second most visited page on the organization’s site on the campaign’s launch date. In addition, the organization raised 70% of its first fundraising goal—$12,000—within 48 hours on Indiegogo, an online crowdfunding platform that allows companies to encourage donations through incentives. Herrin also notes that The Nature Conservancy is experiencing “excellent performance” in signups.

Carrot Creative’s Indellicati says that the nonprofit’s limited marketing dollars added extra pressure to taking the ideal steps needed to ensure success. “You can definitely sense the urgency and anxiety in wanting to get something like this right the first time around because there’s less room for testing,” he says.

While the initial dollars raised is a win for The Nature Conservancy, Herrin says that the organization is prioritizing social reach and email signups over fundraising to promote elephant conservation over time.

“For the long-term survival of elephants, which is what we all want, we need people to really come in, make a commitment, and be with us long term,” she says. “If we prioritize that relationship over just a splash of money…we believe that that’s the way to play the long game.”

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