Campaign communications: the big picture

The word campaign — defined as “an organized course of action to achieve a particular goal” — originates from the Latin (campus, or “field”) and the military activity of “taking the field” of battle. In many ways, a fundraising campaign is a battle – for the attention, interest, collaboration, and dollars of potential donors who are besieged by requests for philanthropic support. A campaign’s “course of action” is organized in a series of phases with distinct objectives and corresponding tasks. No two campaigns are the same, but most involve the following five phases.

Pre-campaign (1-2 years)
Effective campaigns are based on strong foundations. Ideally, campaign priorities are based on a strategic plan that has been developed with broad input and has the support of faculty, the board, and other key stakeholders. In the pre-campaign phase, the mission and vision of the strategic plan are translated into a set of institutional objectives with associated philanthropic goals. Qualitative and quantitative research can help to identify alignment with (or resistance to) the campaign’s priorities, and a feasibility study can predict the size and giving capacity of various audiences.

The pre-campaign phase is also the time to review the campaign communications budget, and the role of in-house staff versus outside consultants.

Quiet (or nucleus) phase (1-2 years)
During the quiet phase, the campaign’s volunteer leadership is identified, and early gift commitments are made. The campaign dollar goal is confirmed, and the campaign’s priorities are defined. The communications team must develop the campaign’s creative strategy – including the naming of the campaign, the messaging approach, and the brand identity (fonts, color palette, photography style, overall look and feel).

A briefing booklet (or campaign folder with inserts) is developed to define the reasoning for the campaign and give the development team a tool for consistent early solicitation of lead donors. A system for personalized, on-demand proposals is put in place, the main case statement is created, and sub-case statements are developed for individual priorities. A campaign newsletter, web site presence, and video presentation are designed and produced, and campaign kickoff events are planned.

Kickoff/public announcement (6-12 months)
Let the party begin: the communications team creates a suite of materials for the campaign’s public kickoff: save-the-date card, invitation, speeches, video, event choreography, program, and gifts.

Public phase (3-4 years)
The team creates ongoing publicity that demonstrates the impact of the campaign. Targeted proposals continue, and stewardship efforts are supported (recognition societies, events, donor commitment reports, gifts). The messaging and themes of annual fund appeals are aligned with the campaign. Campaign messaging and strategies are evaluated and adjusted as needed. Major gifts and campaign milestones are communicated to a broad audience.

Campaign closing/celebration (6 months)
A final campaign report thanks donors and volunteers and reconfirms the impact of the collaboration between the institution and its supporters. A final event celebrates the combined effort, and begins to set the stage for the next campaign.

Keep the big picture in mind as you develop your campaign communications strategy — it’s hard to get to you destination without a clear sense of where you are going.