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Test Your Capital Campaign Creative

Bob Brock

I posted a recent blog on why capital campaign messaging needs to pivot directly from your brand platform. That’s not enough by itself, of course. The corollary is that it’s still crucial to pre-test your campaign messaging and creative.

That’s because the elements of your brand platform – your brand promise and brand drivers – can be creatively presented in any number of different ways, with very different resonance points. Which one will work best?

Testing seems a no brainer for an initiative aimed at bringing in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Investing a few thousand is a wise investment to make sure you’re hitting the donor/influencer sweet spot with the most resonant and motivational messaging and creative.

This issue is top-of-mind since we just completed such a testing project for a soon-to-be-launched fundraising campaign. As usual, we received some surprising input that will ensure that the final campaign materials and leave-behinds get the job done effectively!

Here’s an example:
Which of these do you think would be most resonant/motivational to your important 6-and-7-figure donors? A creative approach that leads off with…

  1. …poignant student portrait(s) that bring to life the inspirational personal outcomes that are a direct result of donor philanthropy?
  2. …exciting programmatic advancements, made possible by donor gifts, which have a permanent and powerful impact on the institution and its mission?
  3. …a stirring narrative of the major improvement and expansion of the institution’s reputation, prestige, and competitiveness that result from donor gifts?
  4. …a moving description of the intense and growing need for private financial support due to harsh economic conditions and increasing student need?

A tip o’ the cap to those who spotted this as a trick question: Every institution is different, so your target audiences are likely to respond differently than those we tested. But in this example, successful young alumni donors resonated strongly with the student outcomes in “#1” above; but older alumni donors said that student impact was “transient” and they were motivated more by the permanent nature of increasing institutional prestige in “#3″. Non-aligned donors were drawn to the practical nature of “#2”. The distinct differences in resonance for each group were quite pronounced, and resulted in clear directions for strategic messaging for the different segments.

Your specific donor segments are likely to react differently – and guessing at their reactions is risky. The first rule is that there are no black-and-white rules for what will motivate your donors. Relying on another institution’s testing results is like putting on someone else’s clothes: Unlikely that the fit will be the same.

For effective donor testing, first carefully identify a cross-section of 25-28 current and potential donors (more will not appreciably increase your understanding) with whom you’d like to speak. Make sure the list includes representatives from all large-and-small-gift segments: young alumni, older alumni, non-alumni donors, faculty/staff donors, corporate partners, parents, community leaders.

Next, the President should personally invite each participant via a personal letter/email and follow-up phone call from advancement leadership. Invitations should stress the value and importance of each individual’s input.

Schedule small-group sessions with participants over the course of several days. These should be 90-minute segments over breakfast, in mid-morning, at lunch, or in mid-afternoon. Each group should include 3-6 participants to allow for lots of personal attention and follow-up for each individual’s input.

We like to test four messaging explorations as in the example above. These include presenting value statements built on each of the four brand drivers (primary attributes), with alternative donor benefits/outcomes from which the respondents can identify the most important and motivational. Ensuing discussions will be enlightening for the communications team as well as advancement.

We also find it useful to test three design explorations that reflect alternative approaches: A “personal impact” interpretation, an “institutional prestige” approach, and a “programmatic or economic impact” approach. We use fully designed 8.5 x 11” two-page exploratory spreads as testing boards for each approach. Here are examples of the three creative concept boards that we developed for one institution’s donor/influencer testing:

It’s not a question of which one is the best. Instead, we use these to probe what each exploration communicates to each segment, and how closely they identify with the portrayal. In most cases, the final design/copy approaches for each audience segment are a synthesis of the ideas being presented.

While each of the design spreads should be well-branded to reflect the same institutional attributes and identity, each one should also present a different hierarchy of messaging and different stylistic nuance.

The results of the messaging and creative focus groups should be interpreted with care to identify primary donor segments and the motivational approach that works best for each.

Using this approach, the final campaign case statement and materials can be shaped to maximize overall donor resonance for each primary donor segment, and improve your ability to reach campaign goals.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images, testing layouts courtesy of EMG)

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