3 min Read
April 19, 2012

A checklist for starting your next campaign

Big Duck

So you’re a nonprofit professional. And you’ve heard over and over that instead of sending one-off emails or mail appeals–you should be organizing your communications into campaigns, which are basically a series of messages that tell a cohesive story.

So, why are campaigns worth your attention? You’ve heard lots of reasons… Campaigns present your work as a relatable story. Stories are good, check. Campaigns also give your audience a clear idea of what’s most important now. Check for urgency. And yes, because campaigns are made of multiple messages, the repetition makes your story easier for your audience to remember… OK, sounds great!

But how do you get past the blank page and actually start your own campaign?

Here at Big Duck, one way we get started is by asking “What narrative elements do most successful campaigns have in common?” and then making sure we’ve identified each of those elements clearly for our next campaign. 

In our case, we’ve identified five narrative elements we feel most successful campaigns include. It’s no exact science, but asking yourself each of these questions can be a helpful jumping off point as you’re planning your next campaign:

  • What is the specific PROBLEM your campaign exists to solve? Is there a natural disaster you need to respond to? A crucial bill you can’t pass without help? A promising area of research that needs more funding? Clarity about the problem or opportunity your campaign exists to solve will help your readers understand why you’re reaching out to them now, and why it’s urgent and important that they give you their attention. 
  • What is the SOLUTION? In explaining the solution to your problem, try to be as specific as possible. If the problem is that animals in Louisiana have been left homeless by a tornado, the solution isn’t donating to relief efforts, the solution is to deliver temporary shelters where those animals can live. That specific vision of temporary shelters will be much more motivating and evocative than just “relief.”

  • What ACTION can people take to make the solution happen? Usually you’ll be asking them to either donate, take an action, or tell their friends. However, make sure that you show why those actions advance the solution. For example, if your solution is to deliver temporary animal shelters, and you’re asking people to donate–tell them that their gift will help you pay for the shelters, the transportation, and staffing that will help homeless animals.

  • What is your campaign’s GOAL? Typically, your campaign will be asking many of your supporters to take individual actions to collectively support your solution. But how will they know if they’ve achieved that solution? By setting a goal–for how much you’ll raise, how many actions you’ll generate–you’ll provide a measurable target for success, and celebration!

  • What the TIMELINE for your campaign? While this element is not as crucial as the previous four, attaching a timeline to your campaign’s goal is an effective way to underscore the urgency of your call to action. The goal of “Help us raise $20,000 to deliver temporary shelters to Louisiana” is less urgent than if you put it in context of a timeline: “Help us raise $20,000 before hurricane seasons starts on August 1.”

Once you’ve identified your campaign’s problem, solution, action, goal, and timeline–use them as the outline for your campaign plan, and make sure each message reinforces all five elements (or at least the first three).

By establishing a clear narrative structure that underlies all of your campaign communications, you’ll help your audience get the most from the story you’re inviting them to be a part of.

And how about you? Are there any tips or tricks you use when you’re developing the narrative for a new campaign? We’d love to hear your approach too! Please share your thoughts in the comments!