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Why Your Next Capital Campaign Needs a Brand– Not Just a Case

Posted by on February 26th, 2013
Posted in Blog, Capital Campaign, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Fundraising   

You’ve worked with a top-notch fundraising consultant. Your feasibility study showed your donors open and interested in your capital campaign plans. You’re ready to launch the quiet phase of your campaign with your most important major donors. But when you do, your case falls flat—and no one is sure why.

At Mission Minded, we fervently believe in the power of brand to help nonprofits make a unique promise to their audiences— a promise that helps differentiate their organization from others and that helps them stand out as a compelling, vibrant choice.

Successful capital campaigns have a brand, too. It’s not enough to write a case for support. Capital campaigns that effectively win over donors at every level have done so because campaign leaders took the time before creating the case to consider what the best brand of the campaign would be. They undertook the painstaking work of developing a campaign brand promise, and built all the campaign materials around communicating that promise—from the theme to the talking points, case statement, brochure, and microsite.

A catchy slogan isn’t enough. A beautiful case brochure isn’t enough. Good campaigns have a strategic brand— a big organizing principle that lives within every single aspect of the campaign. We call this the brand promise. And your next capital campaign needs one.

What is a brand anyway?

We’ve written extensively in the blog about branding and why it matters for nonprofits. In short, brand is another word for reputation. Your organization has one, whether you think you’re doing branding or not. How your donors and volunteers regard you is your brand.

Brand isn’t your logo or your mission statement – your brand consists of the ideas and attributes that come to the minds of the people who matter to your organization. When they hear your name do they think “stodgy but effective” or do they think “innovative, hip and unproven?” However they think of you is the brand you have with them.

What’s the single big idea for your organization?

To establish the brand you want, perhaps “steady, methodical, effective, and compassionate,” you have to first be absolutely clear that this is how you want to be known. You can’t hope to be perceived in the most positive compelling way until you’ve articulated internally for staff, board and all internal stakeholders what the single big idea is. Internal clarity leads to effective amplification externally.

If you want to be known as “social justice champions,” as we recommended for one of our clients, you must first get clear on that idea and those words. If you want to be known as “that really professional think tank unearthing new ways of solving the bullying epidemic” then get those words down on paper so you can get that idea out into the world. Doing so will guide you in how to look, how to act, what to do and what to say.

My organization needs a brand, but does my capital campaign? And what’s the difference?

A capital campaign is of extreme importance to the nonprofits, schools and cultural organizations who undertake them—and the big idea that will anchor it needs to be determined early on. Articulating the brand promise you want your campaign to have will help dramatically increase the chances of their donors finding it irresistible. Is the campaign one that “preserves forever what we love about this place” or one that allows the donor to “help others go forth and shine?” Find the big idea, and build everything around it.

Naturally we recommend that your organization as a whole have a clear brand promise as well. The best nonprofits do. As we’ve said before, your brand should drive everything you do and say. But is your organization’s brand the same as the brand of your capital campaign? No.

While it must absolutely sync up with your organization brand your capital campaign brand must be more specific to the promise of the campaign itself—and what will happen in the world as a result of its success. Donors need to feel the need and see themselves a part of meeting it. That’s why the campaign needs that big idea, succinctly distilled, as its anchor. And because capital campaigns are time-bound, there can be an urgency to your campaign brand that may not be part of your overall brand.

Without first articulating the single big idea—the promise the campaign is making to its donors—your case is likely to end up just a list of needs, a litany of rationale and a jumble of asks. And that’s hardly compelling to today’s sophisticated donor. Unless the need and the ask are organized around that exciting promise, how will staff and board members know how to speak emotionally and clearly to donors?

Here is Mission Minded’s 7-step program for launching a capital campaign that will be irresistible to your donors:

  1. Build upon your feasibility study research to articulate what most excites donors about the campaign. Rather than “a new library and common area for students and faculty” push yourself to understand what benefits the new library and commons offer. Is it first-rate scholarship and intellectual community?
  2. Create a character to represent each of your most important audiences. What makes this person tick? What will make her fall in love with the idea of giving to this campaign? Get to know her so you can create a brand, messages and case that will be irresistible to her.
  3. Now answer the question, “Why?” Why must this campaign succeed, and what positive outcomes will be the result? Don’t fall into the trap of listing what your organization will get, build or create. Instead, think big picture. Does the new library mean scholarly thinking that will set the scholars and the world on the course of new discoveries for mankind? This is the nucleus of the big idea.
  4. Determine the promise your campaign can make to its donors. What’s the single big idea your donors get to be a part of? This promise is the big idea and will become the heart and soul of your campaign. Remember what makes your donor tick and create the promise from her point of view, not your own. Is it, “world class symphony for a world-class city?” That’s quite different than a new music hall isn’t it?
  5. Now that you’ve articulated your brand promise you’re ready to create the theme of your campaign and to turn that theme into a headline for the case. The theme turns the brand promise into an idea to share with donors. The theme drives writing of the case headline. Perhaps the theme is “Strength in Numbers.” Everything from the case brochure headline “Together we’re Stronger” to the case content to the photography and design would be in support of bringing this theme to life.
  6. Next you’ll create the talking points for the campaign. What’s the elevator pitch? How do you succinctly lay out the WHY of the campaign? What stories can you tell to help a donor imagine the possibilities? Creating short, sweet messages that are easy to say and that pack a punch can only be done well when you have the brand promise to guide you.
  7. Now that you have your brand promise, campaign theme, brochure headline and a set of strong talking points, you can begin writing your case.

Starting to write a capital campaign case statement without developing the brand and theme first is like building a house without a foundation: you can get started quickly, but the first wind will undo your best efforts.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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One response to “Why Your Next Capital Campaign Needs a Brand– Not Just a Case”

  1. We agree! Too often we find that the case for support is an “internally-focused” document that communicates a nonprofit’s needs. Our recommendation: the case for support is an externally-focused marketing tool that needs to engage volunteer leadership and potential donors. Thank you Mission Minded for “making the case” for branding your campaign.