Campaign communications: think strategy

Capital and comprehensive fundraising campaigns are vital to the livelihood of any educational institution that endeavors to be (or stay) great. A successful campaign can enhance student programs, improve faculty resources, transform facilities, ensure the school’s ability to offer financial aid, and grow the endowment.

Multiple factors contribute to campaign success, including strong leadership, clear priorities that are tied to a strategic vision, a realistic goal, committed volunteers, and adequate staff and budget. But these components are not enough to ensure that a campaign will meet and exceed its stated target. Successful campaigns require a system of communications that will support a multi-phased, multi-year fundraising effort.

Many schools make the mistake of taking a narrow view of the campaign communications task. A logo is created, a case statement is designed, and a page is added to the website. This approach skips the development of a comprehensive creative strategy, and overlooks vital tools that will be needed by the advancement team.

Another common mistake is to approach campaign communications as a sales effort, “marketing” the school in the same way the admissions department markets to potential applicants. Instead, successful should communicate with potential donors, pulling them into a relationship by establishing trust, creating alignment, and demonstrating the impact that the school can have when philanthropy supports the institutional mission.

The distinction between marketing and communicating is particularly important at the top of the gift pyramid — where donors often contribute 80 – 90% of the campaign goal. For this audience alignment is crucial, and requires a capability for highly targeted campaign messaging. Alignment with those at the middle and base of the pyramid is also important, if less personal. A successful campaign fosters a culture of philanthropy within the alumni audience that is vital to the long-term health of the institution. Giving begets giving.

With a multi-tiered audience, a multi-year effort, and multiple phases, a campaign is a complex undertaking. To ensure success the campaign needs a comprehensive plan for authentic, targeted, tangible, concise, and creative tools for engagement. The campaign needs a system of communications that work.

The campaign creative strategy
The campaign must be a well-planned, thoughtful, inspirational, and recognizable effort. A carefully conceived creative strategy will help to keep your communications consistent over the life of the campaign.

Campaign brand identity
A campaign brand identity begins with a name (often with tagline) and its treatment as a logotype. The campaign name should be active and meaningful, and relate to the campaign’s priorities. Try to avoid the generic (“The Campaign for Tomorrow”). Test your name by imagining its use in a speech by the president at the campaign kickoff event. Design a logotype that works equally well projected on the big screen as it does on the corner of an envelope. The logotype, supporting typography, color palette, and use of photography should be distinct from — but coexist happily with — the existing institutional brand.

Campaign messaging
The key messages of campaign communications should align with the school’s mission, strategic plan, and campaign priorities. The messaging platform should provide detail on both the content (facts, arguments, persuasions), and articulation (voice, emphasis, tone) of written communications, and a stylistic approach for photography and video. Campaign messaging establishes common themes, and a way of speaking and writing about institutional history, strength, and impact that should be referenced by everyone on the development team. The plan for messaging should acknowledge that variations are required for different audiences, ranging from “gifts of any size are important” to “your gift can transform the institution.”

Campaign communication tools
The creative strategy should include a plan for a suite of campaign communications tools. Core items include brand identity guidelines, briefing booklet, case statement, detail on priorities and institutional finances, a template for customized on-demand proposals, stationery, invitations, newsletter, campaign web site, video presentations, social media, speeches, stewardship gifts — and anything else the development team asks for.

In closing
Behind every successful campaign is a shared belief in the power of education to make the world a better place – and the ability to demonstrate the institution’s mission, vision, and effectiveness. To make sure your campaign exceeds its goal, take a holistic approach to your communications, and cultivate alignment with your audience. Strategic and well-executed campaign communications tell a powerful story, make an emotional and thoughtful connection, and will move your audience to give.