Communications and campaign success

Your planning study is done, the findings look favorable, and your campaign is a go. You have every reason to expect great success. Precisely how great will depend at least in part on how, and how well, you communicate with your prospective donors and volunteers.

In communication for fundraising, your choices — of style, tone, timing, frequency, media — require extra finesse. This isn’t marketing collateral. Or PR. Definitely not advertising.

In addition to providing information, excitement, and a sense of urgency, you must navigate the two sides of the donor mindset: the impetus to do good and the corresponding wariness that comes with the territory. Inspiring the former while dispelling the latter, turning an ask into an opportunity, that’s the agenda.

Below are some of the ways a strategic communications specialist can help you cultivate donors, inspire volunteers, stay on track with your plan and achieve your highest campaign aspirations.

  • Case Realignment. There once was a hospital CEO who wanted funds to remodel patient rooms, but study interviewees said they cared much more about emergency services. The campaign went forward, but not before the case had been reworked to feature the ER. Interviews often bring insights that warrant changes. Address them before sharing your story with a wider audience.
  • Breast-Pocket Version. Some donors need maximum brevity. And you need something handy in the elevator. Short is harder to create than long. Ask a professional to help you whittle down your case to a few succinct but compelling points.
  • Major Donor Proposals. With top prospects, your audience is often one person you hope will invest in a priority within the overall campaign — a building perhaps or a costly piece of equipment. Here your basic case is not enough. You need a targeted proposal tailored to that priority and to the interests, concerns, personality, and sophistication of that individual.
  • Family Campaigns. Compared with major donors, employees have different stakes in your outcome. Tailor your case for them and for other subsets of your inner circle. If you’re a school, that means faculty. Health care? Nurses. How much they give when asked is less important than the gesture. Here the thought really is what counts, because major prospects will notice when you say that a high percentage of your organization’s family cared enough to give.
  • Slides or Video. For group presentations, a brief but compelling show will reinforce and ensure consistency in your message, perk up the audience and give the speaker some breathing room. In fundraising, a slide deck with voiceover is often more effective than the bells and whistles of a commercial video.
  • Briefing Slides.  People respond to visuals. Props, if you will. A few simple but strategic slides, printed out and placed on the table one at a time, will keep the conversation moving as you brief a major donor on the results of the study and the key points of the campaign.
  • White Papers. The Future of X. The Meaning of Y. The Answer to Z. To educate donors and other stakeholders is to cultivate a sense of being in the know.
  • Campaign Updates. Volunteers and staff stay engaged when you take the time to share your progress in a way that makes them proud to be along on the journey.
  • Fence Mending. A major donor suddenly took back a $50,000 pledge because an inexperienced volunteer unwittingly offended her. In time, she re-gave that gift, contributed $2 million more and kept on giving, setting a whole new standard for the institution. This happy ending took a great deal of personalized communication by carefully selected individuals supported by the right talking points, phone scripts, notes and other communications.
  • Broad Appeal. Many campaigns end with a letter inviting “everyone else” to give. This is a great way to identify donors who weren’t on your radar. Big checks do sometimes arrive this way, but mostly this is an opportunity to make all your stakeholders feel like part of the team, so they will give again and again, perhaps more each time as their wealth grows.

No two campaigns and no two organizations are exactly alike, but this much is always true: fundraising is about relationships — built on trust, understanding, appreciation, commitment. Only when potential donors trust your organization, understand your cause, and appreciate its value will they commit significant dollars. Communication is the key to their most generous inclinations and to something even more valuable: their loyalty!

An investment in strategic communications will help you make the most of your resources, ensure consistency and quality in your messaging, and provide your volunteers and staff with tools that boost their confidence to bring about results far beyond your dreams.