Building relationships for campaign success

Your strategic plan is in place. Your feasibility study is complete. Your campaign goal has been set—ambitious, but probably achievable—and your kickoff date is on the calendar. In other words, you’re committed to campaigning.
Now it’s time to start building new relationships, internal and external, that will be vital to your communications effort, and to the ultimate success of your campaign.
On the inside
Your development and alumni relations departments may consist of two people, or twenty, or many more. Whatever the size, chances are good that the team is already stretched thin. A multiyear, comprehensive campaign will put even greater strain on these departments. Now is the time to review roles and responsibilities, and make any necessary adjustments.
For example: Who is going to take the lead on campaign communications? Will it be a group within Development? Or will your institution’s Marketing Communications team be asked to assume that large task? Either way, there should be a comfortable relationship between the branding and messaging of the institution—an ongoing effort—and the campaign’s communications. They will need to be different, but compatible.
Your annual giving effort is already in place, and will continue after the campaign is completed. How can the campaign reinforce your annual giving messages, and vice versa? Early discussions will help ensure that the annual giving effort and the campaign are collaborating, and not competing. A similar alignment should be established with alumni relations, reunion events, and donor societies.
Of course, the campaign will need a strong presence on the web, accessible through the main landing page but also reasonably robust and freestanding. Connect early with your central web and social media teams, and make a plan for content creation and production from kick-off through celebration. Again, determine whether these teams have enough capacity to help you when the crunch time comes.
As you begin to establish the external messaging and brand identity for the campaign, keep the members of your governing and advisory boards in the loop. (For these purposes, they are definitely “insiders.”) Give your volunteer leadership an opportunity for early involvement in choosing the campaign name, theme, and branding. Work with them to create a quiet-phase campaign briefing booklet—thorough but not daunting—that will help them talk about the fundraising effort in a clear and consistent manner. And as always, when working with volunteers, surface and celebrate their good ideas.
On the outside
As you are assessing and building your in-house capabilities, begin establishing relationships with outside resources in areas where help may be needed. These areas may include, for example:
Creative strategy, writing, and design
A strong creative partner with campaign and development experience can work with you to identify the enduring institutional touchstones that will inform all of your campaign communications. That partner’s writers and designers can then translate these core attributes into powerful, outward-facing messaging—a task that, by the way, is not always easy for the passionate insider. The creative partner’s job is to combine language and imagery into a rationale that speaks to both the head and the heart of the prospective donor. The elements of that rationale will be leveraged in many ways over the life of the campaign.
Photography and video
The stories you create for your campaign should be brought to life with specific and targeted photography and video, supplementing (and in many cases replacing) generic campus imagery. Again, work with your creative team to develop a look and feel for the campaign—fresh, but still recognizably “in brand”—and make sure you have enough photographic and video resources in place to take advantage of opportunities that will present themselves on short notice.
Event planning
A multiyear, comprehensive campaign can involve the production of many events, including the initial kick-off, regional gatherings, donor society events, a mid-campaign commemoration, and a closing celebration. If you don’t have an in-house resource who is expert in staging and producing such events—and assembling temporary teams for local and distant events—take steps to fill that gap. Find a specialist who can collaborate with your communications and stewardship teams to create moving and memorable campaign events. 
Printing and fabricating
Print is not dead—far from it! Most likely, your campaign will require a surprisingly wide range of printed products and fabricated solutions. Find appropriate, cost-effective printers for the case statement, invitations, newsletters, banners, stationery, gift items, and customized on-demand proposals. Start negotiating now with your purchasing department to get the kind of flexibility you will need down the road. No matter how well you plan, you will still need the highest-quality goods at unreasonably fast turnarounds—not the usual outcome of competitive bidding processes! Can certain vendors be pre-qualified? Can payments be accelerated, if needed?
A team effort
The successful campaign communications effort requires many team members, both inside and outside the institution. Consider monthly meetings early on to establish roles and solicit buy-in from key decision makers, and more frequent meetings as the public phase of the campaign approaches. Think about adding a compatible outsider from a comparable institution to these meetings—someone who is six months or a year farther down the campaign road, and can help steer you around potholes. Above all: Be realistic about the capabilities you have in-house, and go outside for seasoned help where necessary. Done right, and at the right time, these kinds of investments will more than pay for themselves.
Start early, build strategic relationships, and put the power of collaboration and creativity to work!