Season 3, Episode 21
Campaign communications include much more than your case for support. Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt discuss audience, message, and medium for each stage of your campaign in this important episode.
Good campaign communication is all about getting the right messages to the right people at the right time.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein, I’m joined of course by my colleague and co-founder Andrea Kihlstedt, and today we are going to be talking about campaign communications — how to do it well and what it looks like. Andrea, get us started.
Thank you, Amy, and what a pleasure to be here today to talk about this so important topic. When you think of campaign communications, you probably think about the case for support, that’s what everybody thinks about. We have a capital campaign, we need a case for support. But that’s just one little corner of your campaign communications plan.
Quite early in your campaign, in fact, as a part of your larger campaign plan, you need a plan for campaign communications. And we like to think about that as broken down into three segments.
- The first is the early part of your campaign, all of the pre-campaign planning that goes through the feasibility study.
- Then that middle part of your campaign, that’s what we call the quiet phase of the campaign, and yes, you do need a communications plan for that part of your campaign.
- And then the final part of your campaign, or the public part of your campaign. All three of those sections, first, second, and third part need different communication strategies.
Pre-Campaign Planning Communication Strategy
Let us talk to you about the first part of that, this pre-campaign planning communication strategy.
Yeah. So before you get into each of the different sections of a campaign, for each section, we’re going to think through the audiences, the messages, and the medium.
- So how are we going to communicate?
- Who are we going to communicate to, and what information do they need?
- What is the information?
So early in the campaign, in the middle of the campaign, at the end of the campaign, we’ve got different audiences, we’ve got different messages, and we’ve got different medium for how we’re going to get them those messages. Okay, take us through it.
Great. Now, as you might imagine, the first part of your campaign is really very narrow. You’re talking to people who are on the inside. Your audiences are your board members, your executive director, your key donors, some of your staff members.
You’re talking to people who are really in the know about your project and your organization, and you are talking to them about the plans that you’ve developed that are going to be the basis for your campaign. Now, how are you talking to them? Well, clearly you’re not using billboards to talk to them at this stage of the campaign.
You’re not using brochures either.
Use Simple Draft Documents Early On
Nor brochures. You’re using simple draft documents, and you’re asking them to read draft documents to give you feedback. Maybe you are having meetings and discussing with them what the preliminary plans are for your campaign, that’s part of your early campaign communications as well.
So if you think about this first part of your campaign, the audience are the people who are closest to you. The message is sharing the information about the project that you were planning, and then the early planning for a campaign that is going to fund that project. And the medium or media are these very tightly controlled drafts of information, Word documents, even meetings where you’re discussing those plans with people.
You may do an email blast to a very small group of people so that they know what it is you’re doing. But everything you’re thinking of is to a small important group of people, because when they grab onto what you’re doing, when they fully understand it, when they agree with it, then you’re going to be ready to move on to the next section of your campaign.
Right. So early on, it’s really one-on-one and very small groups. You said email blast, but I don’t think you meant it.
Emails, yes. All email groups, very small blast. Ten, five people, three people, that’s it, is that an email blast?
Really small executive committees, those type of very small groups, and one-on-one. But I think that’s super important. This is not the time for public communications or mass communications, this is really early on, the insiders group, the elite donors, your board members, the closest people to your organization, early on in the campaign.
Alright, and you’ll tailor those messages, those messages are going to be highly specific and highly tailored for each person that you’re talking to and each little subcommittee.
Campaign Communications During the Quiet Phase
Great, let’s talk about the quiet phase. So the next phase of the campaign where you’re going a little bit broader, but it probably looks fairly similar to those early days of the campaign in this quiet phase too, what sticks out for you?
Yeah, what sticks out for me is this. That during the quiet phase, you are expanding a little, you’re expanding beyond the immediate family of your organization to the people who are the largest potential donors.
Remember, in the quiet phase, you’re soliciting the people who are closest to you, your organizational family, and the people who have the largest capacity to give. So that’s going to be your audience when you think about a communications plan. You’re going to be involving them by sending, again, it will be a draft of a case for support, maybe a donor discussion guide — something that is an infographic that you will have just four individual donors. Again, it’s going to be very tightly held and tightly controlled, but it’s not going to be the same sort of draft that you used in the beginning when you really were developing your plan.
By the time you’re actually asking these people for money, your case will be more fully developed, your solicitation materials will be more fully developed. You will have perhaps a slide deck, maybe you’re going to have what we call a donor discussion guide, an infographic to use when you’re talking to donors. Maybe you’ll have the next level up of your case for support. And these things are going to be, again, targeted directly to individual donors.
So while it’s still held tightly, it’s a little broader, the materials are a little more polished and finished. And in fact, while you will certainly be talking about the project that you’re going to be funding, you will be spending more time talking about the campaign itself:
- How much money are you going to be raising?
- Where is that money going to come from?
- How are you going to raise that money?
So the focus has shifted a little from the project, which is what you talked about in the early phase. To this middle section, when you’re talking about the campaign from a very high capacity level.
Right. You may have a folder of materials that you include, an overview budget. You’re going to include some materials, donor recognition opportunities. Other things when you’re soliciting in this phase, a list of board members, other things. But it probably still will all be Word documents — you’re not going to have a fancy brochure yet. This isn’t for mass prime time, and so you’re still doing things that are really one-on-one, so you’re custom printing out a proposal or this updated iterated plan for each donor that you’re talking to.
The other thing that you’re talking about in the middle portion of your campaign, is you are letting people know who is involved. By the middle portion of your campaign you actually have committees, you have volunteers who have signed onto your campaign, you have a campaign chair or co-chairs, you have a campaign cabinet or a steering committee. And to let people know who has signed on at that level builds confidence, so you’re going to want to include that in your communication. Which of course you didn’t have in the early part of your campaign, but you do have now in the middle portion of your campaign.
Excellent. Alright, let’s talk about towards the end of the campaign, and this is probably the biggest shift.
A Communications Plan is Essential During the Middle of Your Campaign
One thing, let’s go back to the middle for a minute. So we’re talking about one-on-one with donors mostly, but you want to communicate with some of those committees that you just mentioned. So you are going to be sending reports probably by email to subcommittees, to the board, whether it’s quarterly or monthly, whatever cadence seems to make sense, and you’re going to tailor those communications. Again, it’s not for the public, it’s not for everybody’s eyes, it is for those that are involved closely. But you think about those one-on-one donor communications, and who do you have to give updates and reports to? So those are all part of your communication plans for your campaign.
Amy, it’s so important that people do that in a thoughtful and organized way. Instead of waking up one morning and thinking, well, I think it’s time to let our board know what’s happening with the campaign, or we just got a big gift in, let’s tell our board. You will want to have, as part of your communications plan, as Amy said, a monthly report to your board. You’re going to want to do that in an organized way, even in the months that the campaign hasn’t made the progress you’d like it to make, you’re going to want to be reporting.
And that sort of reporting needs to be part of your communications plan in this fairly lengthy middle section of your campaign. So it’s so easy to forget how important it is to have a serious plan, where you know when you’re going to be reporting to whom. And because to the extent that you do that well, you will build confidence. And in the end, campaigns thrive on confidence. Confidence that they’re well run, that they’re well managed, that people are forthcoming about progress.
So not only are you talking about the campaign itself and have materials about the campaign, but you’re also talking about the progress the campaign has made over that period of time. It’s so important, Amy, I’m so glad you brought it up.
Yeah. I just want to note that for all of our clients at Capital Campaign Pro, we give them access to our online toolkit of materials that have templates and samples for all… The communication plan for each piece of the communication. They get access, they work with their consultant or campaign advisor through the materials in the toolkit to develop this communication plan, each of the tools, each of the outreaches.
So it’s something that we of course provide for our clients in an organized and systematic way so that they can do this in an effective manner.
Campaign Communications During the Public Phase
Let’s talk about the last part of the campaign, and this I think is what most people think about when they think about communications. Which is this final public phase of the campaign, that begins with a campaign kickoff and continues until you cut the ribbon for your project, whatever that is.
And this of course from a communications standpoint is when you’re communicating with the broadest audience, you’re trying to let your entire community… However your organization defines community. Let your entire community know how close the campaign is to being successful, how exciting your progress is, and you want to invite them to be part of the success of the campaign.
So this is important. This is when you’ll start having swag, you might have T-shirts, or hats, or stickers, or bumper stickers, or water bottles, or flags, or anything to kind of build broad excitement about your campaign.
But let’s get also to the more technology aspects. You’re going to have a webpage, you’re going to have video, you’re going to have those types of things, also you’re going to of course have a social media campaign at this stage of the campaign. You’re really going broad and wide, so you’re going to need messages and figure out who your audiences are with the wider community to make sure that you get access to them.
You’re going to do press releases, you’re going to try and get some media attentions, and having social media campaigns redirected back to your website, all of those things. So physical presence at your site, if you have one, with big thermometers. This is probably a chance for that good old-fashioned brochure, or more modern brochure online, videos like I said, all sorts of big splashy communications that we typically think about as communications.
A Cautionary Note About Progress Thermometers
Now, here’s a cautionary tale about thermometers. There’s nothing worse than an organization that puts up a thermometer in its front yard in the middle of town too early.
And it doesn’t go anywhere.
Because it sits there. And the paint starts to fade, and it doesn’t change, that’s just deadly. So if you’re going to use some kind of a visible thermometer, public thermometer, you have to wait until close to the end of your campaign. And when you put it up, you have to be strategic about what you’re announcing on your thermometer so that you will have regular updates to its progress.
Yes, I love that, it’s strategic. I mean, there’s nothing worse than seeing an empty thermometer. And they go around social media too, it’s all these crowdsourcing campaigns that send out, and there’s no gifts, and nobody wants to make the first gift. Or there’s three gifts, it’s so sad looking, there’s no momentum.
Thermometers are about momentum, and energy, and excitement. So you’re right, the more publicly you can update them and change them… I mean, plan to have them up for three months, but every month it better make a big leap.
Yeah. Well, and you can even talk to donors and say:
“Thank you so much for indicating you’re going to make a gift of such and such. I wonder if you can make it 30 days from now so we can have a bump in our revenue.”
You can work with donors for that also. But yes, momentum is everything. And boy, when the momentum stops, it’s challenging. So be careful in this public part of your campaign that you manage momentum from the beginning of it to the end.
Questions to Ask Regarding Public Phase Communications
But yes, to go back to our initial idea, you are having to think through:
- Who is the audience, or who are the audiences?
- What are the messages?
- And what are the ways in which you’re going to reach those audiences?
And as you go through your campaign, the messages are going to change, the audiences are going to broaden, and the way in which you reach those audiences is going to shift. So that’s the way to think about campaign planning.
Yeah, I think the one thing that we haven’t really talked about is weaving it into your existing and ongoing communications, and that of course will be part of your plan as well.
You will think strategically about how and when to include it in your regular newsletters, your annual reports, your emails, whatever you’re currently doing to communicate with your community and your donors. You will decide how, and when, and where, and what messages you’re going to include throughout the campaign. So of course, that’s part of your campaign communications plan as well.
Amy, when I was a young fundraiser in this business, for some reason, this idea that we could create a campaign communications plan. Taking into account those three things, audiences, messages, media early on in the campaign and actually be planful about them, so we knew what we were doing as we went into the various phases of the campaign, was such an aha for me. It was like:
“Oh, this isn’t just going and asking people for money, it’s a much more strategic and planful process than that.”
So I’m happy to share this idea with people who are doing campaigns perhaps for the first time, maybe it’ll give you an aha also.
Right. We do have a wonderful one-page grid inside our Capital Campaign Pro toolkit, that specifically shows audiences, medium, what’s the third thing I just forgot?
Messages. And how and when to think about that. So it is something that’s thoughtful, and strategic, and you should be planning for.
Great, I think this was a great topic, I hope you, our listeners, got some tidbits and some ideas, and we thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.