Five Ways Public Universities Can Advance Their Advancement Campaigns

01 Integrated Print Campaign

The mortarboard caps have been tossed, the folding chairs put away, and the wine and cheese sipped and munched on. That’s right, universities across the country have celebrated another commencement season and quietly slipped into their summer terms. Of course, in today’s climate of decreasing enrollment and shortfalls in state funding, universities also have hard-working – often understaffed – departments dedicated to fundraising. These folks aren't taking summers off.

Advancement is critical to a university’s health. Working with an agency can relieve some of the internal pressure that comes with limited resources, as well as amp up your strategy and transform your creative. WhiteSpace has partnered with major area universities, and we’ve picked up a thing or two about how to build better advancement campaigns. In fact, we’ve picked up five pretty sound ideas you might consider when planning your next advancement campaign:

1. Set a clear goal – or know how to work with an unclear one

Are you trying to increase your donor base? Raise a specified number of funds? Name a building? Every advancement campaign has a goal, but sometimes it has several. That’s OK. Tackling simultaneous goals just requires a little finesse in terms of strategy and audience. Start by defining your goals and ordering them into a hierarchy (even if it’s just a top-secret hierarchy that never leaves your team). Then, you’re better prepared to build a broad-based general campaign with targeted funnels within.

2. Find the sweet spot between corporation and nonprofit

In some ways, a university functions like a large corporation. There are multiple levels of approval, stringent brand guidelines and unique, well-defined processes. Be prepared to navigate the red tape and triple-check all guidelines. Yet, remember that at the same time, a public university is a nonprofit actively seeking donations. Your materials should be attention-getting but tastefully humble. Striking the right balance is nothing short of an art. This is an area where collaborating with an agency that serves both multi-million dollar corporations and nonprofits with rich fundraising backgrounds might be easier than researching headache remedies and playing that game where you throw your crumpled ideas into the wastepaper basket.   

3. Stop dismissing Millennial donors

It’s not that Millienials won’t give – it’s just that you need to know how to ask them. Fortunately, Millennials just happen to be the hottest target audience out there for many of WhiteSpace’s clients who are waiting to scoop them up as entry-level employees, so we’ve been studying them pretty closely. Our research indicates that Millennials actually enjoy giving when they care about the cause. Try incorporating micro-fundraising and donor-specified gifts. Teach them how to give at a relatively young age and attainable amount.

But really, it all comes down to understanding the nuances of any audience. For instance, WhiteSpace recently helped Kent State University target alumni student athletes with the “Let’s go forward” campaign. We built the whole campaign on one line from the university’s fight song – sparking nostalgia in the minds and hearts of former players who heard that song played each time they represented their university on the field or court. The results? A tremendous increase in the number of donors – including recent grads.

4. Go ahead and ask for $5 million – from a single donor

Never be afraid of a big ask. Just be afraid of asking in a way that is not respectful of the proposed gift. After all, you’re asking an individual to part with a great deal of money. This requires in-depth research into your potential donor and seriously thorough documentation of just how awesome your end result will be. But it also requires making the recipient feel indispensible and appreciated. An ask piece hinges on personally tailored design and messaging, as well as utmost professionalism and accuracy – all displayed in an engaging, hand-delivered piece. (We just produced a $1 million ask piece, and we’re on the edge of our seats!)

5. Listen and respond 

Chances are, you know alumni better than anyone else. What makes your university matter more than just the degrees it offers? Why do people come back to visit? Get married on campus? Urge their children to apply? You already have the emotional fire to develop an incredible campaign. But what should that look like? Where should you scrimp and where should you splurge?

Chances are, an agency like WhiteSpace can translate your ideas into a visual solution that can be sustained during a yearlong campaign that hits the right channels. We’re pretty good listeners, if we do say so ourselves. Imagine the results if we work together.

Take a look at the rest of our portfolio, and don’t hesitate to contact WhiteSpace if you’d like to talk more about how we can help achieve your advancement goals.

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