Fairmount InSights

Last week, a friend sent me a link to an image that was popular on one of my favorite social media sites. It was a picture of a sign on the side of a bus stop. The sign depicted a cute, slightly dopey-looking squirrel and read: “Get adopted by a squirrel. And feel content in knowing that your new parents are somewhere in a tree, watching you.”

In the few hours since this snapshot had been posted to the site, it already had hundreds of comments and thousands of views.

The sign is the work of City Parks Foundation (CPF), a New York City nonprofit that provides free arts, sports, and education activities in the city’s many public parks. Like many, many nonprofits, CPF is in the midst of an individual giving campaign. But unlike many, many nonprofits, CPF didn’t choose to focus on the serious, why parks are essential to society, how the world would ultimately be worse off without them. Instead, they chose to revel in the silly.

CPF’s campaign is called (wait for it) Nuts for CPF. Its homepage is bold, interactive, and witty. After a brief “background questionnaire”—one of the most important questions: “As a child or adult, have you ever thrown rocks or sharp objects at squirrels, or similar bushy-tailed creatures?”—anyone can be adopted by a squirrel family, free of charge. After your adoption papers are complete, you are given the option of also donating to the organization.

Today, individuals are constantly asked to give money to nonprofit organizations, all of them deserving, often by tugging at his or her heartstrings. Though these messages are all certainly true, combined, they become emotionally exhausting. There’s also a reason that among the tens of thousands of individual giving campaigns, this campaign picture went viral. CPF found a creative and engaging way to lure individuals to their campaign site. And while on its face an absurd premise, CPF’s “adoption” process puts a new and positive spin on the value of parks, and those who inhabit them.

Of course, not all organizations can adopt this type of humor into their fundraising campaigns. But it behooves us all to think deeply and creatively about new ways to engage those around us, be they potential donors, potential volunteers, or someone who benefits from our services. In the case of CPF, their clever and unexpected approach gained them a brand new individual donor, one who didn’t even know they existed two hours prior to seeing that silly squirrel. And in return, I now have an extra set of eyes watching over me every time I visit New York.