Podcast: Capital Campaign Communications with Special Guest Farra Trompeter
Season 3, Episode 12
Farra Trompeter of Big Duck Communications joins Amy and Andrea to talk about branding your capital campaign and other important aspects of campaign communications. Learn how to express the power of your campaign so it feels new and special without undermining your regular communications. Listen to these three experts as they explore the power of excellent communication.
If you are wondering how you should be communicating about your capital campaign, you are in luck. We’ve got a super special podcast for you today and a super special guest.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m here with my colleague Andrea Kihlstedt. And today we have special guest Farra Trompeter here, who is the Co-Director of Big Duck, a worker-owned communications firm for nonprofit organizations. And we feel so special to have Farra here with us today, because we have known her and her work at Big Duck for a decade or longer. And she is a crackerjack at what she does, and her entire firm.
Well first of all, thank you for having me here. And I appreciate the idea of being a crackerjack and not any reference to jumping jacks, because I am way out of shape. But I’ll take crackerjack and I’ll think about the toy you find at the bottom of the box. If anyone remembers those fun-filled crackerjacks.
So I’m Co-Director of Big Duck. I’ve been here for 16 years. I use she/her pronouns. Big Duck as a communications firm that works exclusively with non-profit organizations. We’ve been around for almost 30 years. Two years ago we transitioned to become a worker-owned cooperative. That means our founder, Sarah Durham, who has also worked with you for many years, sold the business to the team. And our team continues to do what we do — which is build strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong teams for nonprofits.
And really look at how we can use communications to achieve your mission and build relationships with supporters, with your staff, with your community, with your clients. So when we think about capital campaigns, we do really bring in our experience and expertise with branding, and with overall storytelling. And I’m sure we’ll get into that and more today. But folks can learn more about us at bigduck.com. And I’m excited to be here.
Great. Thank you so much Farra.
So Andrea, why don’t you set the stage a little bit, as you always do, for our podcast. Just a few words about why communications is extra important during a capital campaign. And then we’ll get into it with Farra about campaigns and communications.
Sure. So we know that campaigns provide a remarkable opportunity to actually rethink a lot of things, to actually spend money. You have a campaign budget. You can invest in reshaping in some ways, or elevating your organization. And communications is one of the important ways in which we do this.
Communications Planning for Your Capital Campaign
People are often, in fact, always interested and fascinated by, and sometimes hooked on, the notion that campaigns are all about brochures. And you and I know, Farra, that that’s not the case. However, branding for a capital campaign is really incredibly important.
Let’s talk for a minute about when someone should start thinking about the communications plan for their campaign. Early on or later, when does that work begin about communications?
Yeah, I think communications has a place at every step of the capital campaign planning process. I think in the beginning as you’re trying to figure out:
- What is this campaign about?
- Who is it for?
- What is it going to be raising money for?
- Who are we going to be asking for money?
As you’re developing that preliminary case statement and doing your feasibility study, part of what you’re going to be doing is having some initial conversations. Likely with donors from your previous campaign or your major donors who have not yet given it that significant transformational amount. Or you’re hoping they will. And even in having those initial conversations, you need to say something about what they’re investing in. And so even what that something is, even if it’s a one-page Word document that you’re creating or just some talking points, that you need to have something to say.
And even if it’s not fully-formed in the final name of the campaign or what it’s about, having some initial way to describe it and having folks be aligned about that, has to be one of the first things. And I think, again, there’s a bigger conversation we can have about the siloing that often happens between development and communications teams.
But I often argue that someone from comms should have a seat at the table all the time. Especially when we’re talking about the future of an organization which often is being conveyed in a capital campaign. Certainly as we determine, yes, this campaign is feasible and there’s prospects who might give to this, and we’ve got something to talk about.
And we’re in that quiet phase, again, we often come in once those initial conversations have been developed to figure out, what should be the theme of this campaign? What’s the idea that’s going to run through it? What are we going to call it? What does it look and feel? And how do we make sure it looks and feels special and feels connected to us, but not completely different?
And we can have a deeper conversation about branding in a minute. And then of course, along the way as donors are giving or prospects are considering, what kind of updates are you sharing? Are you sending out newsletters or reports so that both donors and potential donors understand how the campaign is progressing?
And of course, as we get into the public phase, the campaign might find itself on your website, mentioned in social media. Again, depending on the campaign and where it goes. So that’s the obvious place people are thinking about communications. But again, I would argue that you’ve got to think about communications from day one, and not day 36, 50 or whatever it may be.
Yeah. We totally agree with that.
Campaign Branding vs. Organizational Branding
I’m curious, how do you describe the relationship between the organization’s vision and its capital campaign? Or even the relationship between an organization’s traditional branding and communication. And how does that look and feel differently? Or why should it look and feel differently during a campaign?
Yeah, let me start with the first question. I mean, I think the organization’s vision is to me, the starting place for all communications. Including a capital campaign, which I see as donor communications, but a form of communications.
So where an organization is going, which is often articulated in things like a strategic plan, a theory of change, a logic model. At least in someone’s head somewhere, someone knows where this organization is going, I hope. And we need to understand where that direction is so that we can talk about it. Again in a preliminary case statement, in an eventual case statement brochure or presentation, in conversations with donors.
And, of course, as we’re building an organization’s brand. So we need to know where an org is going because again, that’s probably going to be included in the story of the capital campaign. But the capital campaign, like all things we’re doing, should be in service of where the organization is going, and of course its mission as well.
So what I would say about that. If an organization doesn’t know where it’s going, then how are you going to have a successful capital campaign? I’m sure one of the first questions a donor is going to ask, and you two know better than I do in this, because I’m not in those kind of conversations.
“Where’s this going? Where’s my investment going to go? What outcomes can I expect? What is going to happen as a result of my gift?”
You have to be able to say, not just for the campaign, let’s say we’re building something or we’re building an endowment. But here’s what it means for our future.
The second part of your question is about branding. And I think, again, we always strive at Big Duck to create campaign materials and campaign identities that feel special but aligned. So specifically it may mean we’re using a secondary color palette. Or we’re creating a campaign logo that’s locked to your primary logo. Or we’re using your primary logo, but again, creating a big banner, or header, or name for this campaign.
Because the materials have to feel like, “Oh, I should pay attention to this.” But not so different and so separate from how you communicate on a regular basis that, again, that donor or prospect won’t recognize you when you email them, when you send them something in a mail to keep them updated. And again, the campaign should be special, but part of that ongoing cultivation and stewardship you’re doing of donors.
A Second Brand to Denote the Campaign
Yeah. It’s so interesting to me how sophisticated that idea is, in that you have an organization with a particular brand. A look, a set of colors, a logo, a tagline. That brand persists, of course, through the campaign. That’s who the organization is.
And then with the campaign, which almost always kind of springboards the organization to a next, higher level, and isn’t ongoing. A campaign goes on for two, three, maybe four years and then it’s over.
So you create a second brand, right? A second look, a second tagline, a second way of identifying the organization that is specific to this particular shorter term fundraising process. And as you say, it’s got to be distinguishable, and it’s got to feel like it’s the same organization. And that’s a very sophisticated problem, graphic problem, and thinking problem, right? I mean, your team, I think, is expert at doing that, but it’s not so simple as just to come up with some random phrase.
Right. It has to feel connected, like a sibling or a cousin. I should recognize this is a member of the family, but maybe somebody a little different. I mean, the other thing, I’ve seen a few organizations that we’ve worked with where we’ve actually used the capital campaign as part of the brand rollout. So that the campaign is one of the first pieces that illustrates the new brand and maybe uses the organizational tagline, if it makes sense for the campaign. It kind of all depends, or plays off the new tagline.
So again, it feels like a sibling or a cousin and not like this third cousin once removed. Or whatever ancestry.com is sending me that I’m now related to.
Yeah, I think that’s such a good point. Because a campaign is actually an opportunity. By definition, your capacity building for your organization, so therefore it’s an opportunity to make all of your communications and branding more sophisticated and your marketing.
So I think organizations should pay attention to this unique opportunity of having a budget and income coming in, that can be invested in long-term growth and sophistication of the organization. And communications is exactly that.
The Importance of Process vs. Product
Farra, I often think about the importance of thinking about communications and materials for campaigns. Both from a process standpoint and from a product standpoint. Because if you get people involved in the process of thinking through what the brand should be, what the tagline should be, what it is you’re trying to say with the campaign communications, then the people you involve in that actually become more familiar with it. It becomes sort of a part of who they are. They are able to articulate it easily and well.
There are however, some communications firms that don’t want to spend the time and the energy getting other people involved. Because of course it’s much simpler just to go and create a brand and say, “Here’s your brand.” I’m wondering how you fall on that split between the importance of process and the importance of product.
We love process. We are big champions of making the time and space for what we call an inclusive process, through all of our work. And we often talk about podcast, about blog, about the idea of really who is in your community. And how do we get feedback from our community when we are building communications, a brand, a campaign, etc.
Sometimes there’s not time and budget to do that. So where we can, we are always advocating for that. And specifically, I have had a few instances, or we have had at Big Duck, where this has been a great way to engage a campaign cabinet, a donor advisory committee, whatever you may have. That often, again, and you all can speak better to when it happens. But usually in the beginning, in that initial phase, we’re creating some group of donors who are giving us feedback as we’re building the campaign.
Maybe they’re the sounding board for the feasibility study. That group of people can be a great group of people to say, “Hey, we’re working with Big Duck…” Or Big Duck comes and presents or an agency. It doesn’t have to be Big Duck, that we welcome it. And can say, “We’ve just had a presentation, they presented four concepts to us. We’re looking at these two. We’ve elevated, we’d love your feedback. Which one resonates more with you? Which one do you think would compel you, or people like you, to want to learn more?”
Not just say, “What do you like?” But really give a focus on the action you’re hoping to create. So we’ve done things where we’ve created surveys, asking about phrases, words, themes, different… For example, maybe there is going to be a brochure, different cover designs, just to get a sense of what’s resonating with donors.
We’ve also done live conversations or almost like a town hall, or a presentation in a meeting. I do think engaging actual donors in that process in the beginning, to your point, gets them more likely to feel engaged in the campaign. Especially as maybe initial investors, as ambassadors, people who are advocating for their friends and networks to give. And it makes the materials better.
And I would say I wouldn’t just privilege the donor voice at that point. I’d also invite other members of our staff who know our community. Because I think one of the things that I know can come up specifically and especially in capital major donor campaigns, can be sort of harmful storytelling. Where we’re so donor-centric, and so elevate the donor as the hero that we in essence do harm to other audiences. And that’s certainly something we also want to avoid.
Doing Harm to Other Audiences
So what do you mean by that? Talk a little more about doing harm to other audiences.
I mean, I think, it is amazing that there are people out there with the resources to contribute at a 5, 6, 7, 8 figure level. I can’t really imagine. I hope to. Well, and I will never become one of those people. I don’t imagine that for my future.
But I know that there are people out there who have access to the level of resources to give and that is amazing. And I think as we are looking at how we can integrate diversity, equity, inclusion, justice in everything that we do. And if an organization’s committed to that, you really do need to look at your practices related to fundraising. And specifically, I think for many years there have been a sort of –
“The donor is the hero, the donor is the savior. If we don’t get your support, we will close the next day. The only person that matters to this organization is the donor.”
Right? When those kind of messages come through in how we communicate. Or, “You, mighty donor are saving this poor person with your investment.”
Which again has been so much of, in many of the fundraising approaches for decades, then it creates this power dynamic. Or elevates this power dynamic where the donor is amazing and on this pedestal. And everyone else, just because they can only contribute a lesser amount, or their time, or their expertise, is nowhere near as valuable. That is harmful in and of itself. It also makes it seem like, your money is your worth. And there’s nothing else that matters.
So instead we want to see how we can treat the donor as a partner. And say:
“The donor is an important person for us to establish our mission, but guess what? Us establishing our mission is carried out by our staff, is carried out by our program partners.”
And when we’re telling stories about beneficiaries, we’re making sure that the folks who stories are being told, those folks are being compensated for sharing their stories.
Folks are reviewing the images that are being used, the words that are being used. So that they are coming from a place of dignity, and not this place of, “Look at this poor person.” So that’s some of the things that are coming to mind.
Yeah, that’s such an important point. And I think in the last few years we’ve seen such a wonderful shift in thinking about that. For us, that’s come up a lot in the question of donor recognition, of naming spaces or naming buildings. And whether that’s appropriate for every organization or not.
Yes, that is a very active question in the spirit of this. And just, I always like to amplify and recognize Vu Le, who I think has been really leading a lot of this thinking, as well as the community-centric fundraising movement. That if folks are not familiar with, if you go to communitycentricfundraising.org, they have an amazing content hub with blogs and podcasts and other content if you’re trying to really understand this.
Yeah, we’ve had Vu Le as a guest here ourselves. And I look forward to his writings every week.
Communication Materials Used in Capital Campaigns
Yeah, I just wanted to shift the conversation a little. One of the other things that I think has changed a fair amount in the capital campaign world are the kinds of materials that we use in campaigns. And I wonder what you see and what you see as most organizations using these days.
Yeah, I mean I think the standard for so long, I believe, was the brochure or the report. The printed 12 to 40 page documents, that you could use at a donor meeting. Thumb through, leave behind for them to take home to their partner, their professional advisor. Those for many organizations are still an important piece. Especially for organizations that are working with donors who are older. Who, meeting in person is still very much part of the cultivation process.
I think with the pandemic and the move to virtual that really pushed things along. Now, the default for many organizations we work with is a digital presentation, as opposed to it being the printed report that we then convert for some organizations. Now we’re mostly starting with a digital presentation that if you are meeting with a donor, if you’ve got a laptop or a tablet, you can still virtually thumb through, you can send a PDF afterwards.
You can customize and add slides, remove slides in some ways more easily than have to worry about printing inserts or special proposals. For many organizations, they’re still doing both and they each kind of look and feel a little different. I think the other things we’re seeing are, again, things like maybe smaller brochures that can be mailed as we get into the public phase of the campaign. Again, donor reports. Creating an email series if we’re going to get into more public phase.
But I would say the biggest shift to me is going from a, let’s do a print report and then ask if we need anything digitally, to let’s do a digital presentation and then figure out how we’re using print. So I would say big picture, that’s the biggest shift. And I think relatedly, depending on what the campaign is for, how is the campaign showing up either on the organization’s website or in a dedicated microsite?
Sometimes a microsite can be helpful, which is like a small website that just has a few pages. If, to your point, the campaign is short-lived, there’s content maybe we want to password protect. Only show to a few folks. But many organizations as they get into the public phase, especially if it’s a campaign that is going toward a building or a space extension, it can be helpful to put on the website. Show the artist rendering of what that new space is going to be.
So I think, again, asking the question around, how are we creating this campaign digitally is coming up. But again, it always comes back, and I can’t believe we haven’t talked about this yet, is your audience.
- Who is your audience?
- What is going to motivate them?
- Where are they going to want to learn more about this campaign?
- And in what ways will they need information so that they can digest it?
Again, share with others in their family or their community? So that is really where you ask that question.
And it’s not just, it’s always A or B. But really, and that’s a great place to, again, when you have that donor advisory council or a campaign cabinet, to ask them those questions and learn from them. Or even ask, as you’re doing a feasibility study, ask a question about communications and materials.
How You Can Use Video in Your Campaign
So one of the campaign mechanisms or ways of communicating that I am very curious about, I haven’t seen much on it, but I’m super curious about it, is video. And there are some campaigns, of course, that do fancy, expensive videos. And some of them are just amazing, that then get shown at the campaign kickoff. Or it’s a big production to do these videos. It tends to be fairly expensive.
But what I have a curiosity about is that, these days anybody can make a video, is the informal use of video. And I’m wondering if you see or think about that? If organizations should be thinking about taking videos, sending them to donors, what that might look like? How somebody might do that in a way that’s effective or not effective? Again, I don’t see much of this, but I’m just interested in it.
Yeah, I mean, what’s coming to mind for me is an initial way of using video. Especially in this sort of first part of a campaign life cycle, would just be thank-yous. You know, we often talk about calling people and saying thank you. You could also send a very quick video that’s like, “Thank you, name of donor, for supporting this campaign. We’re just so excited to have you on board as one of our first investors. We just wanted to send a message.” And it’s a 30-second video that gets sent over email or text. That could really help you stand out.
And I think is a great way for those kind of more grassroots, homegrown videos. I think if your organization, let’s say again, if you’re building a space, doing almost like going on a tour with the architect or the builder. As you’re going through and recording it with everyone with their hard hats on and talking about it, that could be a fun thing to share.
Again, showing as the campaign is progressing, what’s happening. I do think, again, as the campaign gets into the more public phase, there’s going to be probably a growing need for video. Video is currently one of the things that gets the most response on social media. Whether it’s a reel on Instagram, a video on TikTok for however much longer TikTok might exist. Content on your other channels.
But again, this comes back to, do you have the right content for video? And do you have the resources, to your point, to do a high-end video? You’re talking about probably tens of thousands of dollars. So sometimes that makes sense. And again, if you have the right content, the right story to tell. And video can be great if you’re doing a microsite or having pages about the campaign on your website. Doing a brief overview, keep it short, 30 seconds to one minute about the campaign. Maybe a message from the Executive Director.
Again, there might be different things you can use, but is it a must? Again, I think it depends on what kind of campaign you’re doing and what phase of the campaign you’re in. And again, who you’re trying to communicate with.
I think that’s so important. I don’t think we have time to get into too many details, but really thinking about the communications differently for each phase of the campaign is such an important thing. And we have some blogs about that and probably will continue to do that.
Getting Help for Campaign Branding and Communications
But Farra, I’m wondering, as listeners get into campaigns and think about hiring communications support or help with branding and marketing, what kind of things should they be thinking about? How should they think about hiring the right firm, or the right individual? What kind of questions should they ask? I know that’s three or four questions in one. But as listeners think about hiring help for this area, what should they think about?
Yeah, I mean, I think you could ask folks to see examples of other campaigns they’ve created. I think that that can be helpful to see the outcome and certainly to speak to people they’ve worked with to understand what that actual working relationship was like. I think just asking the individual or the agency, what is their approach to donor communications? If they have other fundraising consultants like yourselves, how do they work with the in-house team? Really understanding how they see themselves as collaborators. And understanding that approach and how that aligns up with how else your work with others is going to be important. Like I said, seeing examples. Asking them the questions like we said, if we’re committed to an inclusive process and bringing voices in of our community, of our donors, how do you do that? So I think you don’t always have to have all the answers, but invite your partner, your consultant, your agency in to figuring out with you.
And I would say please include a budget.
When you are doing outreach or an RFP, I know that a lot of organizations are very nervous about including a budget. Or they want to leave it open in case they put a number in and they’re worried the consultant or partner’s going to inflate their funds. I do think it’s helpful to include a budget range. Or at least start with a conversation to see if the process, the organization you’re talking to, aligns with the budget you might have to invest. Because you want to make sure you’re investing a good use of everyone’s time.
That’s right. I mean, I think there’s a range of help out there. And so if you have a budget of $5,000, you should be looking for the right partner for that budget. And if you have a budget of $50,000, you should be looking for the right partner for that budget. And I think that there is a range of help out there. And it’s just a matter of finding the right help for your right organization at the right time.
So I want to add something to that, which is that, in my opinion, it’s important that people who are going into campaigns hire communications professionals. That while everyone, or many people think, they can write, and many people think they know language and communications, it is a real expertise. And one that, if you get it right for your campaign, will make your campaign stand out. And if you get it wrong, then everything falls flat.
So we don’t often talk about that, Amy, but I don’t think that hiring a communications expert is a luxury. I think it’s a necessity and can make a huge amount of difference through your whole campaign.
The one other caveat I’d add to that is, start by talking to your communications team. Because there may be that folks in your communications team have expertise in doing this, have done this. Yes, please call people like Big Duck, we’d love to talk to you. And also see if you’ve got that expertise in-house. Don’t forget you’ve got a communications team. Because I think a lot of times, again, to this gap or siloing that often happens between development and comms, sometimes the comms team hears about things years later. They didn’t know it was happening. This should be integrated. And that communications team may have a good partner that they’ve worked with, and done branding work or other work with.
So I would just say on your journey to figuring out, I agree with Andrea, communications should be seen as a must and not a maybe. And I would start by talking to your in-house team before you start going out and looking for other partners.
Yeah, great suggestion.
And I want to just give a shout-out to the listeners who are saying, “What communications teams?” Because we definitely have nonprofits listening that have, well, maybe the Development Director is the same as their communications and marketing manager.
That’s fair. That’s fair.
So yes, all shapes and sizes of nonprofits that are doing campaigns and need all sorts of different support. And sometimes they’re hiring outside help because they don’t have an internal team. And sometimes it is to supplement the internal team, and to collaborate with the internal team. I think those are all good important points.
Farra, I want to invite you to share one more tidbit or takeaway. What do you want to leave listeners with? What’s the most important thing they need to be thinking about as they think about their capital campaign and communications?
I would just say make the time to invest in figuring out what the story of the campaign is. And how that story connects to the rest of who the organization is and how you communicate.
Excellent. Alright. And one more time. Where can people find you and more information about Big Duck?
Yeah, come on over to bigduck.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. We may or may not revive our Instagram presence at some point in the near future. But yeah, you can find us there. I’m also in most channels personally, if you’d like to connect with me.
And really look forward, if you are wondering if Big Duck’s a fit for you, you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just email me email@example.com. And look forward to exploring.
Thank you so much for joining us, Farra. It was such a great conversation.
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