4 min Read
April 17, 2014

Campaign coaching: Clear eyes, full hearts, Vera can’t lose!

Rachel Hope Allison

There are a lot of ways we can help nonprofits with their campaigns at Big Duck, but recently I’ve been loving the potential I see in our campaign coaching—and not *just* because it let’s me imagine myself in the role of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. (Though ok, that’s part of it. Go Lions!)

Working with the Vera Institute of Justice on their year-end fundraising this past December really hit home why that is.

It was a pretty lean, targeted way of working together—our three months of coaching included weekly calls, high-level campaign planning, creative direction, and editing. That meant we could only look at the most immediate opportunities ahead of us and there wasn’t room to totally reinvent their campaign outreach.

And yet they ended up uncovering several promising lessons about their online supporters, and raising nearly 35% above their fundraising goal.

Beyond the fact that Vera had a great mission and was a total delight to work with, I realize there are a few reasons why they were the right kind of organization at the right moment for coaching to deliver some really exciting returns.

If you’re thinking about dipping your toe in the multichannel campaign waters, maybe consider whether you’re also at the following jumping off point…

They were ready to up their game.

When I first spoke with Joel Levy, Vera’s super-supportive development director, he was very clear that they had a few opportunities they were ready to seize: They had made an organizational commitment to diversifying their funding beyond foundation and major donor support, they had the momentum of a new Executive Director who was excited to try a new way of engaging supporters through campaigns, and thanks to a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder, their issue was in the news.

But they weren’t quite ready to go pro.

Vera knew that doing campaigns the most effective way—on a year-round basis, with thorough planning, cross-promotion, and adequate time and budget for copy and design—takes an investment in staff time and dollars. But before they explored a bigger commitment in the coming year, they wanted to sound out whether their list was likely to respond to a new kind of campaign. Coaching let us take a baby step toward this new campaigning, and assess its future potential, without breaking the bank.

They focused on the right goals.

From our first call, it was clear that Vera was not just narrowly focused on the short-term metric of total amount of dollars raised—they knew this was also about learning lessons and building for the future. So in addition to overall returns, they set out goals for engaging new donors at new gift levels, building staff capacity, and testing out a new, more personal way of writing their appeals.

Their team was nimble…

Thanks to the fact that Vera’s leadership was behind the goal of exploring new kinds of campaigning, the small team I worked with was empowered to make quick decisions and keep the plans moving forward even when we did need to consult Vera’s leadership. Even better, they were also flexible about what they might try. When I noted that some of their wish-list testing opportunities either were too expensive, too time-intensive, or, from my experience, wouldn’t get them meaningful insight—they paused on those efforts and focused on the ones we agreed as a team could realistically get us the biggest returns. I was super impressed by how quickly and pleasantly they changed course.

…and their team was in it to win it.

One of the things about coaching is that Big Duck is on the sidelines—unlike projects where we actually create most of the materials, I can’t get on the field and help make the plays happen. Vera’s team knew this and was ready to invest a lot of staff time and energy into drafting, coding, and designing their campaign materials. They probably needed a big glass of champagne to unwind by the time we sent our last appeal on New Year’s Eve, but they had totally earned it, and learned a lot about campaign best practices and what goes into a more mature campaign program in the process.

By January, I had seen their team go from enthusiastic beginners to strategic—and still devoted!—campaign learners and implementers. It still makes me smile to think about how far they came so fast.

So if you’re looking to explore taking your campaigns to the next level with a limited budget, and have the energy and team capacity to take on some of the heavy lifting yourself, you might consider coaching as a first step. I’ll happily pepper you with Coach Taylor inspirational quotes as I cheer you onto the field!