As you plan the creative strategy for your campaign, keep these five principles in mind:
Strategic plans can serve as excellent blueprints for the development of campaign priorities and messages, but tend to be written for an internal audience. The voice of the strategic plan is typically the “we” of the institution. In order to truly connect with potential donors, campaign messaging should change the tone of the strategic plan to be more outward facing, and change the voice — the “we” — to be that of campaign leadership and the institution, in partnership with the potential donor. For highly targeted messages to top prospects, the focus should change to “you”— the donor — your interests, values, and desire to make a difference.
Ideally, large segments of the alumni audience will have warm memories of their time at the school, understand the impact that education has had on their own lives, and feel connected to the institution. But often, potential donors with a significant capacity for giving have specific objectives for their philanthropy. The development team must listen to the donor, understand what they care about, and find a way to align their interests with the ability of the institution to facilitate change. The donor’s gift is the result of a two-way partnership, rather than a one-way transaction.
Campaign messaging should always reinforce the strengths of the institution – its leadership, quality of incoming classes, ranking, diversity, and alumni achievement. Potential donors should understand that the school is at the top of its game, and has a clear vision for the future. As the campaign unfolds, the audience should see specific examples of campaign dollars at work – such as endowed professorships, student opportunities, and grateful scholarship recipients. Use ongoing stories of impact to demonstrate that a campaign gift is a wise investment — changing lives for the better through education.
Potential donors need to know that their money is in good hands. The institution should demonstrate that the campaign effort is built on a strong foundation of nucleus phase gifts, and offer financial transparency around revenue sources and expenditures and the cost of campaign priorities.
In conversations with potential donors, the development team is likely to hear two questions: Why a campaign? Why now? Be ready to talk about the challenges facing educational institutions today: the ability to admit the best and brightest regardless of their financial circumstances, competition for the best faculty, technological change, and aging infrastructure (to name a few). Explain the power of the endowment over time, and the role of momentum in fundraising – how early support leads to greater donor participation.
Connection, alignment, impact, trust, and urgency: these are the foundations of successful campaign messaging.