The wily citizens who tricked Neo Nazis – two lessons

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the fabulous hotbed of fundraising inspiration that is the IFC in Holland where I heard this brilliant story. It’s the most creative piece of fundraising I’ve heard in ages so I felt I had to share…

The Problem: the town of Wunsiedel in Germany has for years been targeted by a group of Nazis who conduct a march through its streets. Last year the citizens of the town decided they had had enough of the intimidation. But what could they do without risking violence, which would have played into the hands of the extremists?

The Response: as usual, the Nazis arrived in the town by bus, dressed in black, some carrying banners and storm trooper helmets. Only after they had started their march did they slowly realise their march had been turned into a sponsored walkathon. Unbeknown to them, the town had secured sponsorship from anti-fascists for the Nazis’ walk. And each step they took was raising money for the charity Rechts Gegen Rechts (Right against right / Exit Deutchland) which exists to support people who are trying to leave Nazi groups.

Brightly coloured banners along the way cheerily thanked the Nazis for their stamina and fundraising efforts. There were signs chalked up along the route stating the total the fascists had raised for the anti-fascist charity.

Three great results:

  • Income – 10,000 euros raised for the charity by the unwitting extremists, to be spent opposing Nazism.
  • Morale – By having the last laugh, the people of Wunsiedel felt strong and proactive, and with no casualties.
  • Huge publicity for anti-extremism, as numerous world media outlets (including the Guardian in the UK, and TV outlets in the US) laughingly reported the prank.

How could you apply this in your work?

  • Do not react, respond. When we face a problem that evokes strong emotions like hate and out-rage, it can be hard to step back, to not react. Though sometimes a robust direct response is effective, the power of this campaign was in refusing to fight hatred with hatred. By not reacting, but instead seeking a creative response, like an aikido master, they used the marchers’ energy on themselves. (As part of their encouragement, they even offered them even more energy, in the form of a bananas left on a refreshment stall, labelled Mein Mampf, meaning My Munch).

Do you face an enemy, either literal or metaphorical, from whom emotionally stepping back could help you find an entirely different, unexpected strategy?

  • Use contrast. At the start of the film that describes the campaign, note how rather than jump straight into describing Wunsiedel’s clever response, the film maker instead allows our strong emotions to be stirred by the face of modern day Nazism. They know we will most appreciate their surprise solution if we have first been allowed to feel something of the problem.

This sounds so obvious, and yet 95% of fundraisers describing why the money is needed jump into describing what their charity does (eg the Helpline / the research / the scholarships etc), rather than first evoking the problem that these things exist to solve.  In my book, The fundraiser who wanted more, the third law of fundraising influence is stated as The Law of Contrast. We learn that ‘the most certain way to help someone want to give is to evoke a problem they care about and then help them believe your charity is able to solve it’.

If you like this story, who could you cheer or re-inspire by re-tweeting / forwarding it?