Is It Your Job to Grow the Endowment?
This document will empower you to expand dialogues with prospective donor audiences.
Our design studio has earned a reputation for stewarding campaigns that achieve monetary goals and build brand value.
Creating a Superior Fundraising Campaign
Superior campaigns are grounded in messaging and design that present a precise brand communications strategy.
The result is a clearly defined story of the mission, vision, and value proposition. Donor influences are addressed with a tiered messaging system, and brand management tools are developed to help marketing departments keep the story on brand throughout the campaign.
Through the years, Michael Patrick Partners has listened to and learned from market leaders.
Recurring comments we hear from university presidents and provosts have included “What drove our previous fundraising successes will not necessarily guide our future.”
Fundraising teams echo similar statements. They ask for campaigns that ensure donors believe that their gifts will make an impact.
A marketing communications manager told us: “Campaign management tools would help my staff develop on-brand communications more easily. Since we don’t have formal strategy documents, ad hoc decisions contribute to a dysfunctional marketing environment—and excessive time is spent dealing with inconsistent content.”
By referencing this checklist, fundraising teams gain an intuitive understanding of a school’s key brand drivers to help engage donors more effectively.
The Value of an Outsider’s Perspective
To start, maybe it’s time for an outsider’s epiphany. Or a creative partner who just gets you better.
An educated outsider arrives with no preconceived ideas and no political baggage—they often strengthen internal team resources. Bringing in people who think differently—and have vast experience—means internal teams are exposed to practices that can help them in the long run.
Organizations benefit from interaction with external creative partners who typically work faster than their client counterparts. Juggle multiple assignments with ease. And propose novel solutions to brand management
Today’s business obstacles presented by COVID-19 and employees working from home have posed extraordinary challenges never envisioned. Marketing managers who apply intellectual objectivity from outsiders—with specialized expertise—are thriving on multiple levels.
Consider welcoming advisors who provide new perspectives and new strategies. Partners who will shake things up and help you reevaluate the status quo.
Comprehensive Fundraising Campaign Workflow
On the pages that follow, we’ve listed our particular approach (steps) to organizing a fundraising campaign.
Consider this checklist your road map. A broad brushstroke. It’s a resource we created for both seasoned veterans and people new to the process—information everyone will value.
Our tested process has guided boarding schools, colleges, and universities—solutions proven to expand dialogues with segmented audiences.
Depending on the type of campaign (i.e., digital or print), the workflow steps vary slightly, but the principles remain the same.
We suggest that you focus on three critical areas: the schedule, the messaging, and the creative strategy.
A detailed schedule lessens stress, highlights the next step in the process, ensures that everyone understands their respective responsibilities, and helps reduce the overall cost. We recommend beginning the assignment at least 16 months before the release date. The more time you have, the better.
Messaging must be on brand. The fundraising campaign is not an island; its content must work in harmony with the admission enrollment and institutional market position to promote a distinguished, integrated, and relevant story.
And a highly innovative creative strategy is essential—a presentation that sparks stop-and-think moments.
When the schedule, messaging, and creative strategy are meticulously executed, a winning outcome is achieved.
The goal is to have the prospective donor audience believe that their contribution will make a difference.
Engage Donors Through Innovative Touchpoints
A few years ago, our agency stewarded a four-year major capital campaign for a small independent university that resulted in a remarkable return.
We proposed a strategy to engage prospective donors through novel marketing touchpoints never applied by the fundraising team. Along with the touchpoints, a precise communications strategy (messaging talking points) that positioned the independent school as the state's most vibrant learning environment was also developed.
Understanding donor influences (care-abouts) was also essential. We reassured alumni—from all generations—that although the fundraising campaign design looked new and innovative, the university was not undergoing a radical culture change. The concerns of older graduates were addressed, and the aspirations of young alumni were supported.
One of the university’s many key distinguishing assets was its small, intimate community. With this attribute in mind, we explained to donors that small meant their support would make a noticeable impact on a student’s life and the campus as a whole.
When the campaign closed, it had generated the greatest total monetary amount in the history of independent universities within the region.
The campaign we created persuaded donors of all ages to recognize that a contribution (of any amount) would make a big impact—a simple copy point that resulted in achieving the most extensive universe of gifts in the university’s history
Our participation eclipsed all expectations. From heightening brand awareness to proving how new marketing communications strategies pulled the audience into the story.
Quiet Phase Workflow
The quiet phase helps you get organized, explore and evaluate ideas, hire the creative partner, and develop interim communications—activities that empower the fundraising team to respond efficiently to opportunities.
Interim Communications Plan An interim communications plan explores quiet phase marketing communications activities. The plan should include (but is not limited to) outlining communications channels, defining audience touchpoints (marketing tactics), scheduling completion dates, and establishing client team and creative partner responsibilities.
Campaign Marketing Budget An overarching campaign marketing budget (and contingency plan) must be established to support all activities.
Creative Partner Selected If an outside creative partner will be involved, it should be hired early in the process. Depending on the level of services you require—design only versus research and design—the search should focus on a company that is not working within your competitive landscape. Hiring a partner who averts conflicts of client interest is key. Expect to be treated as the one and only client.
Feasibility Study Interviews Summary reports of the feasibility study interviews are examined to learn donors’ top-of-mind issues and inform the campaign communications strategy.
Priority and Initiative Organization Campaign priority and initiative organization serves as an opportunity to reinforce the strategic plan. Our view is that priorities and initiatives should be logically organized beneath goals of the plan. By organizing items based on overarching strategic goals, you will have a momentum-building strategy.
Interim Campaign Theme A preliminary campaign theme is developed to help get the quiet phase off the ground. If necessary, a final theme can be identified later during the creative strategy phase.
Interim Campaign Messages A preliminary messaging system is created that explains the institutional vision, why the campaign is necessary, timeline and goal, priorities and initiatives, ways to give, and naming opportunities. Up to three preliminary key messages should be crafted to guide talking points with prospective donors.
Campaign Guidebook This is a living document to ensure real-time information is circulated to the entire campaign team. It’s a digital resource—created as a templated Microsoft Word document—that can be updated as needed. The guidebook provides high-level campaign information such as the timeline, monetary goals, strategic plan, priorities and initiatives, donor segmentation, gift tables, key messages, campaign leadership, and volunteer directory.
Strategic Plan Primer Booklet The primer is a printed, pocket-sized brochure that memorializes information. It’s a CliffsNotes-type overview that states the “ask” strategy, monetary goals, the why and how of each priority and initiative, and interim campaign messages. The small size is convenient and helps everyone develop intuitive responses to prospective donor questions.
Interim Campaign Stationery System An interim campaign stationery system should be created. This stationery helps separate campaign communications from institutional communications and enables a personal “ask.”
Interim Major Priority and Initiative Brochures Preliminary, inexpensive brochures should be produced for major priorities and initiatives. The brochure suite is intended to communicate attributes and features, naming/dedication opportunities, and fundraising-team contact information. Once final priority and initiative brochures are created, the interim versions should be destroyed.
Interim Donor PowerPoint Template A preliminary PowerPoint (tablet- and notebook-based) template is created for one-on-one donor meetings. Designs for title, talking-point, and graphic pages are created so that the fundraising team can populate the template with specific content.
Public Phase Workflow
Planning and Research
The following pages focus on public phase activities. For the purpose of this checklist, it’s assumed that research conclusions have been approved and that the desired market position has been established. Workflow steps include print-based and digital tactics—digital tactics are noted with a (D).
Assignment Planning and Statement of Work Assignment planning should include a detailed statement of work to reiterate deliverables and confirm creative partner and client responsibilities.
Market Research Segmented audience influences (care-abouts) must be researched and conclusions drawn to enable data to be made actionable.
Final Communications Plan Your team, or the creative partner, must refine the interim communications plan and marketing budget for the public phase.
Project Brief A project brief identifies the basic elements of the assignment and empowers teams to initiate the work. It confirms the audience, deliverables, objectives, process, and schedule at a high level. It’s not a detailed scope agreement; the intent is to identify only the fundamental elements.
Scheduling One of the keys to your success is meticulous scheduling. It’s all in the details. Aspects of the planning, creative, research, and production process must be identified and scheduled.
Competitive Audit To ensure that the messaging and creative strategy are distinctive, a competitive (or field) audit of the fundraising campaigns that exist within your competitive landscape should be conducted. The audit is then applied to guide a 360-degree view to optimize the story.
Stakeholder Interviews and Previous Campaign Assessment Before initiating work, it’s prudent to hear from key stakeholder groups (alumni, high-net-worth donors, faculty, staff, and enrolled students) regarding their views of your desired market position.
Rollout Strategy A rollout strategy is essential to ensuring smooth, end-to-end campaign stewardship.
The brand strategy phase ensures that the campaign content supports your overall market position and works in harmony with institutional messaging.
Target-Audience Personas Target-audience personas and their care-abouts are developed to identify segmented target groups. They are determined based on assumptions regarding demographics, interests, pain points, values, fears, motivations, internal influencers, knowledge of your school, and keywords used to search for your curriculum.
Brand Platform Review A formal platform is an essential brand management tool used to memorialize defining principles. It ensures that stakeholders understand, care about, and authentically represent the institutional and fundraising brands throughout all messaging. The goal is to memorialize why the overarching brand exists.
Messaging System Another brand management tool—devised specifically for the fundraising campaign—is referred to as a messaging system. In this case, the work focuses on talking points that must intersect with the overarching institutional messaging strategy. The goal is to develop a precise story that elaborates on why the campaign is necessary, timeline and goal, priority and initiative details, theme rationale, prospective donor audiences and their influences, key messages, call to action, ways to give, naming opportunities, and frequently asked questions and the corresponding answers. The result is a highly targeted messaging framework to guide the writing of all marketing content.
Theme Development Based on what you learn from the competitive audit and stakeholder interviews, multiple story theme phrases are developed (preliminary recommendations). Themes are then presented to senior staff as soon as possible, one is selected, and the creative process moves forward.
Benchmarking Survey (D) Prior to initiating writing and design, it’s prudent to survey stakeholder groups. The survey tests the strengths and weaknesses of the previous campaign and informs the group of the positioning goals.
Creative Strategy: Print-Based Tactics
The creative strategy is the heart of the assignment. While the campaign touchpoints can be produced in print or digitally, a blended plan is recommended to provide the best return on your investment. Listed below are print-based tactics.
Rorschach Test To initiate the work, examples of fundraising campaigns you believe to be exceptional should be reviewed. Consider this a type of Rorschach test to learn visual and messaging preferences.
Creative Positioning There are many ways to develop a fundraising brand (e.g., the campaign logo, case statement, supporting literature, social media, giving website). To ensure that stakeholder preferences are considered, a creative strategy exploration step should be included. Think of this process as a mood board that sets expectations, recaps goals, explores photography and illustration, information hierarchy, grid systems, strategic use of color, typography, texture, and a range of initial design options.
Campaign Identity A campaign identity (logo and/or wordmark) is created to support the theme phrase and enable all campaign materials to share a consistent identifier.
Campaign Overview It’s critical to have a wide view of how all touchpoints will evolve. To accomplish this, the preferred creative option is applied to a range of items to ensure that the design is anticipated from a holistic perspective. The presentation includes preliminary work on print-based touchpoints, digital marketing, and social media.
Case Statement A case statement serves as the campaign cornerstone—the guiding force to lead the design and messaging. It must be a compelling story that explains how your school is an essential community partner and how timely donor support is critical to achieving long-term objectives.
The story presents an overview of the major initiatives and priorities, school background (history and achievements), vision, personal accounts from alumni, campaign goals, naming opportunities, and contact information.
Creative Strategy: Digital-Based Tactics
Digital tactics are listed in the following creative strategy workflow. Each communication includes a call-to-action link so that prospects can click through to content based on their interests.
Giving Website (D) An engaging, information-rich giving website helps increase the universe of donor participation. Case statement content is repurposed to create a highly visual, Americans with Disabilities Act–accessible, interactive presentation optimized for mobile screen sizes, including smartphone, tablet, laptop, and large desktop.
Social Media (D) A social media plan and creative executions (informed by the messaging system) are developed for primary environments. Specific tactics are then produced and scheduled throughout the campaign. The work is organized by target audiences, defined to ensure that the content delivers on campaign objectives throughout the recommended social media platforms.
Final Donor PowerPoint Template (D) A final donor PowerPoint template is completed to replace the interim version.
Email Marketing Campaign Templates (D) An email marketing campaign is a powerful, layered tactic applied to keep prospects engaged throughout the decision-making process.
Online Display Banner Ads (D) A family of online ads is created based on the overarching campaign theme. Discussions regarding geofencing, geotargeting to Internet Protocols, and retargeting/remarketing are required. Strategies are then applied to track, measure, and optimize performance.
Anthem Video Creative and Production (D) An anthem video should be produced for the launch. This is a campaign cornerstone that can be used for extended purposes such as admissions, commencements, open houses, and sports marketing.
Additional Print and Digital Tactics
If the budget allows, there are myriad communications tactics that can be developed, including the following.
Gala Invitation and Graphics The design of the event venue graphics, gala save-the-date card, and invitation packet should be pulled through to reflect the overarching creative positioning.
Young Alumni Touchpoint (D) Digital tactics can be developed to help young alumni understand the need for their ongoing support. While many new grads are unable to donate during the early stages of their career, it’s important to explain that a contribution of any amount is appreciated.
Board Status Presentation To help your team communicate its progress to the board of directors, periodic PowerPoint presentations should be created that highlight campaign status.
Newsletter Template A semiannual print or digital newsletter is an excellent tool to maintain campaign momentum. The content tracks donations, acknowledges donor participation (donor stories), and showcases students who have benefited from scholarships.
Construction Hoarding System A hoarding is a temporary structure placed around the perimeter of a construction site. Hoardings provide a large surface to present campaign graphics that explain the what and why of a new campus building. It’s a palette for you to announce donor underwriting and maintain campaign momentum.
Major Donor Recognition Signage Permanent exhibits and building-dedication signage should be designed for individuals, families, and organizations that make major monetary contributions.
It’s prudent to survey key stakeholder groups and inform them of the positioning goals.
Campaign Asset Workflow
Fastidious management of creative assets is essential to maintaining seamless, on-brand communications over the life of the campaign. A good practice is to assign one person from the client team to monitor applications—a strategy that will result in a reduction in the time required to audit messaging and design.
Photography, Illustration, and Video Considerations Distinctive photography, illustration, and video (imagery) are essential elements used in achieving a particular market presence—elements that demand a second and third look. Your goal is to present a memorable, differentiated brand.
Once it’s been determined whether photography, illustration, and/or video best supports the message, an image list must be compiled. Along with the list, costs and logistics associated with producing images are projected. Your stock photography and video libraries should also be evaluated to determine if assets exist that support the messaging strategy.
Messaging Lexicon Assembling a list of approved words and phrases that track back to your school’s strategic plan, value proposition, market position, and attributes ensures that all content providers stick to the script across all marketing channels.
Campaign Asset Guide The final brand management tool is a campaign asset guide. This document empowers your marketing communications and fundraising teams to apply messaging, design, and imagery that fall outside the scope of a creative partner’s involvement.
Refinement, Production, and Development Workflow
Refinement, Production, and Development Phase
During this phase, final design and production proofs will be approved, the rollout strategy published, and all touchpoints completed.
Rollout Plan A carefully orchestrated rollout plan is essential to ensure a smooth transition from the quiet to the public phase. Begin the planning far in advance of the rollout date. Meticulous scheduling is required.
Giving Website Development (D) A staging environment for the giving website must be provided for content review. Edits (design and copyediting) will continue until the site is pushed live.
Photography, Illustration, and Video Completed Now all imagery—photography, illustration, and video—have been completed. It’s important to wrap up these tasks as soon as possible.
Final Design and Production Proofs Plan on up to three rounds of design and production proofs for each touchpoint.
Copyediting The production proof stage is when final copyediting is approved for all digital and print content.
Final Digital Tactic Files (D) Development is now concluded for digital tactics.
Prepress and Printing Prepress and printing processes must be coordinated and completed. The goal is to have enough time in the schedule to ship materials to your mailing house using UPS Ground.
Server-Side Processes Your web services will be responsible for placing final files on the institutional website.
Client Training Creating a new campaign and brand management tools is one thing; having marketing and fundraising teams eager to integrate strategies into their day-to-day routine is another. Teams must be instructed to apply the creative assets.
Launch Digital touchpoints will be launched and the printed materials shipped to your mailing house. Congratulations—you’ve created a superior fundraising campaign.
Distinctive photography, illustration, and video contribute to presenting a distinguished market presence.
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