When I first started in nonprofit fundraising, campaigns generally were designed for specific needs. A health organization would set a dollar goal to move the needle on disease research or an educational institution needed to underwrite a new building. Once the goal was realized, the campaign ended and another campaign was not automatically in the offing. Today, however, the landscape has changed, primarily because the emphasis is on total funds raised versus a specific impact desired. Hence our stakeholders think we are always in a campaign.
Even though that technically tends to be true—to reach ever-higher dollar goals, we start counting our next campaign contributions the day after the previous one ends—we do have periods when we are not raising money under a campaign brand. Because these periods bridge one campaign to another, the way we identify these phases of evergreen fundraising has become as important to our brand as campaigns themselves. It’s important during these times to keep donors engaged and re-energize them to our brand.
Preparing for these key transitional moments raises some essential questions: What is the best way to move from one campaign to another while keeping stakeholders engaged? How do we create an evergreen brand architecture under which we can still raise money and build a foundation that will serve our next campaign?
Your evergreen bridge architecture needs to be elastic enough to work in all contexts but also stable enough to be a meaningful extension of your brand. To create an evergreen system that supports and reinforces your vision and priorities, while being fresh enough to last until you launch your next campaign, consider the following:
- Residual utility of campaign brand
Consider whether your campaign brand can transition from a proper noun—that is, the formal name referring to a specific campaign—to themes you can use in your storytelling. If you focused on building leaders for the 21st century, ask yourself what messages resonated most for your constituents that you can continue to leverage. If those messages are still relevant, consider how you might use them to steward donors by telling impactful stories about their giving. The messages may also continue to be relevant if you will still be raising money for those priorities postcampaign.
Assess how much your campaign brand reflects your current leadership. If/when changes happen, your evergreen brand can redirect focus back to the institution. You can inventory the landscape when your campaign ends to potentially incorporate messages that serve as a bridge from the campaign to the evergreen period.
- Fundraising versus marketing
A fundraising campaign needs to directly invite giving in very specific ways stemming from the identified and publicly stated goals. Evergreen communications, however, provide an opportunity to focus more on marketing and to take a break from constant solicitation. A marketing campaign lets us focus on who we are and what we stand for by utilizing:
- Stories that profile constituents and how their interaction with our brand impacts them and others.
- Concrete illustrations of our mission in action.
- Messages that leverage emotions, so our audience feels connected.
- Visual elements
In brand architecture we consider four parts: fonts, colors, logo and design components such as wedge graphics underneath text. It’s important to maintain visual continuity in these parts especially when rolling from campaign to campaign. Generally, evergreen brands are more effective when they build on your campaign’s visual identity.
The evergreen system we created following Wharton’s $1 billion More Than Ever campaign in June 2021 grew out of these considerations. The campaign had three action statements to leverage momentum: power insights to reinvent decision-making, incubate ideas to transform business and create leaders who change the world. As a first step we integrated “more than ever” language within our stories no longer referring to it only as the campaign.
Next, we identified value proposition statements for general communications, fundraising, and engagement. We utilized a three-word verb series to evoke movement and momentum and to provide a grounding for the institutional brand as the school’s leadership vision was evolving: general use (think, create, transform); fundraising (inspire, achieve, scale); and engagement (engage, share, lead).
We named our all-alumni events and monthly storytelling newsletter Wharton Impact to focus on marketing and the necessary stewardship that best positions us for the next campaign. Visually we kept the fonts and refreshed design elements.
Years ago, I sold skin care and makeup. One of my pitches, as I helped people learn how to select and apply cosmetics, was “Do you want people to compliment you on your makeup or do you want them to tell you how nice you look?” Ultimately, we want people to see our organizations and feel a tie to the brand, not to any particular system architecture. Marketing during an evergreen period needs to subtly enhance the brand while the fundraising campaign architecture adds to it more significantly.