The Great Schlep
Who says alienating whole segments of the giving public is always a bad thing?March 2009 By Sarah Durham
For fundraisers, 2008 was a year of change and challenge. Plummeting endowments, budget cuts and other lows added pressure to bring in new money while spending even less than before.
At the same time, a new era of fundraising was born online. Widgets and badges and videos (oh, my!) hit our sector big time — and even the smallest and most old-school organizations had to admit that it was time to wake up and smell the coffee brewing online.
There were many sites built that use these new tools. Perhaps one of the most notable of the successful sites is www.thegreatschlep.com. Featuring a saucy video by comedian Sarah Silverman, this site launched during the pre-election run-up to inspire young Jews to make “the great schlep” to Florida to persuade their grandparents to vote for Barack Obama. Considering that Obama won Florida’s electoral votes by less than a 2 percent margin, it’s easy to imagine how the hundreds of people who made the great schlep played an important role in winning this battleground state for him.
If you’re not familiar with Silverman, it’s probably because you don’t fit into her demographic: Her Comedy Central series, “The Sarah Silverman Program,” and potty-mouthed comedy typically appeal to 20-somethings,
or those with a high threshold for off-color language and inappropriate topics. Silverman’s video for The Great Schlep takes on just about every taboo you can imagine, including racism, anti-Semitism and even prostitution.
The video, which is the cornerstone of www.thegreatschlep.com, went viral so fast it was dizzying — and within a day, there wasn’t a Jew, millennial or fan of crass comedy that hadn’t seen it.
Like a matryoshka nested doll, The Great Schlep is a project within a project: The Jewish Council for Education & Research (a partisan PAC founded in 2008) created JewsVote.org to get out the Jewish vote, which then created The Great Schlep specifically to get young Jews to take action.
While I’m not a fan of sub-branding or microsites just for fun, these folks understood that the audiences for these projects were motivated by different things, and they built campaigns and Web sites that spoke directly to their unique points of view.