14 years ago, seven New Yorkers boarded the subway sans-pants. On January 11, 2015, tens of thousands of participants in 60 different cities did the same, all in the name of some cheeky fun. And somehow, I found myself along for the ride.
As I stood on the Manhattan-bound R-train in booty shorts and a down-jacket, I wondered, how did Improv Everywhere turn a tiny, ballsy prank into an internationally recognized event? And what can other nonprofits learn from their strategy?
Here’s the naked truth about how to activate supporters and create a movement (for free):
1. Use clear instructions to detail simple guidelines
For the No Pants Subway Ride, the itinerary was disseminated on social media and via email, as well as in person before the event took place. This included: 1) how to take part; 2) timing and locations; 3) what to wear; and 4) how to share participation on social media. Less is more with big events like this, and the simple instructions let us focus on mustering up the courage to de-pant!
2. Create a sense of camaraderie
Group organizers reiterated the popularity of the event and its prevalence all over the world. They pointed out our bravery for stripping down in 28 degree weather. We were about to join the ranks of the gutsiest goofballs around!
A post-ride celebration was hosted in Union Square, followed by a pantsless after-party. Despite the freezing temperature, the crowd coursed with a current of achievement and togetherness. Ending the event with a (free), public celebration not only gave participants an opportunity to celebrate together, but it also resulted in tons of free media! Even the busiest passersbys stopped to take pics and inquire about the event.
Image source: Joe Abbruscato on Flickr
3. Make it doable anywhere
Where there’s a will, there’s a subway. Or a bus. Or an airport terminal to walk through. In the nonprofit world, there is sometimes an issue of volunteer supply and demand. How do you activate the right people at the right time? What if supporters are ready to engage but there is no opportunity nearby? Hosting an event that can be shared in from any location is a way to unite participants across vast distances, and bring a new level of big-picture interconnectivity to your outreach.
Image source: Atomic Taco on Flickr
4. Leave a lasting impression
With photographers at the ready and dance circles underway at the “finish line,” Improv Everywhere ensured that every participant would remember their No Pants experience for a long time to come. We celebrated and were celebrated by one another as we promised to return year after year, from whatever city we may live in down the line.
Image source: Bhautik Joshi on Flickr
Although I showed up for the event nervous and alone, I walked away feeling brave and connected. Strangers were kind, photographers gave high-fives, and pantsless reporters smiled from behind recorders. Improv Everywhere showed me how to be a part of a movement, and what it takes to create a successful one. It was an empowering day and a great learning experience.
Until next time,