4 min Read
May 15, 2019

Expressing your organization’s voice in a capital campaign

A few years ago, a colleague received a series of emails and mailings about their alma mater’s capital campaign. But because the messages were so aligned with the school’s other communications, and because the campaign didn’t have any distinguishing element, she failed to realize that there was a campaign underway—even though she was a potential donor and a capital campaigns expert likely to notice these things.

Capital campaigns need to strike the right balance between channeling the organization’s brand and differentiating from the everyday. There is a danger in being completely “on brand”. And there is a danger in misalignment.

In the other direction, there’s also a risk of a capital campaign feeling too disconnected from the organization’s brand. If the donor experience isn’t aligned it may feel inauthentic to the organization as a whole—and perhaps even frivolous or extravagant. This can especially be problematic for existing donors who love your organization’s voice as they normally experience it.

Why is this balance so hard to achieve? How is it that some of the biggest, well-funded, well-staffed efforts either fail to channel the organization’s voice or to differentiate the campaign?

This disconnect can happen for many reasons. Maybe new staff are hired specifically to run the campaign and they aren’t as steeped in the organization’s culture and ethos. Perhaps campaign consultants are brought on board, and their proprietary systems and methods produce materials that don’t fully feel true to the organization. Or maybe in an effort to target different, or newer, or deeper pockets, the organization’s identity becomes marginalized or distorted.

The most successful capital campaigns are an expression—and an extension—of the organization’s brand. To pull that off, the campaign can’t be siloed from the organization, but it also can’t look and sound too similar to other communication efforts. Consider how the campaign identity is integrated into, expresses, and is differentiated from your organization’s brand, both internally and externally, from the start.

Align internally: reflect your organization’s vision, mission, and values while showcasing the campaign’s goals

Share the vision, mission, and values with any staff or consultants that are working on the campaign at the very beginning—then put them to work. And if you don’t have alignment on those essential organizational underpinnings, consider working on that before moving forward.

Most capital campaigns emerge from significant organizational planning moments where ambitious new plans on the horizon need funding. Communicating about these ambitious new plans can be fueled by your strategy—your vision, misson, and values. While crafting the campaign name, refer back to the vision, mission, and value statements to both ground and widen your creative exploration. This may move you away from names that describe the project or building towards names that describe the purpose or vision for the work. And look for as many opportunities as you can to connect the goals of the campaign to these statements. Link back to the vision, mission, and values everywhere– not just in high-level, quiet phase materials like the case statement. Weaving together your organizational roots along with your ambitious plans will reassure your audience that the bright new vision you’re working toward—and the ask you’re making—is deeply rooted in what your organization is all about. And it will inspire them to give.

Differentiate externally: leverage your brand, then elevate above the day-to-day

Share your brand guidelines with any staff or consultants that are working on the campaign at the very beginning, at every level of the project—and stick to them. Use the appropriate colors, type, illustration or photographic style. Make sure you write with the correct tone, style, and syntax. And use any messaging documents that your organization might have to talk about the work. Your brand guide is your best friend in making sure this effort aligns with other communications that emerge from your organization.

Now here’s the rub. While the campaign needs to be on brand, it also needs to differentiate so it stands out. For the visual look and feel of the campaign, pick one distinguishing element something that does not appear in your organization’s usual communications. This should be the unique note in the campaign’s voice—perhaps the only unique note from the brand—that appears on all campaign materials. This new element visually signals that this is a special organizational effort, distinct from day-to-day asks for support. There are many ways to differentiate—special printing techniques like foil-stamping, a dynamic type treatment as seen in JTS’s Crossroads Campaign, or a special illustrative flourish as seen Old Westbury Garden’s Landmark Campaign. The key is to pick just one, and to balance that special treatment with brand alignment.

Leveraging your organization’s brand while sharing the exciting new projects that the capital campaign can unlock is the key to authentically connecting with the audience you’re trying to reach. Because if your brand—your voice—shines through, you’ll be communicating the campaign in a way that reflects your organization’s mission, compels donors to give, and drives momentum towards the big exciting targets you need to hit.