02.Mar.2015

Robert Moore
President & CEO

Breakthrough Campaign Themes

Respond to Need and Stir Emotions

There is a fair degree of cynicism in the market about the process of naming a philanthropic campaign. So much so, in fact, that NCSDO has a website dedicated to making fun of the conventional “gerund, phrase, noun (result)” formula – http://www.namethatcampaign.com/. Yes, “Shaping a Future of Excellence” and “Building a Heritage of Purpose” can raise a wry chuckle. But what underlies the need for a distinctive campaign name? The answer is simple; not all missions are alike, so not all campaign names can be canned.

A great campaign name arises out of three overlapping forces: smart, brave leadership; a spark of true creativity; and a set of campaign objectives worth pursuing. We have had the privilege to work with many very smart, focused clients over our years in business. Our team has coined some wonderful names that were adopted (see below examples), and some other great ones that never found their way to market. We can’t unveil the latter in this blog; but find me later over a Sazerac, and we’ll talk…

My mind is circling around this now because we are working with an institution that is frequently ranked as the best university in the world. It has a staggering history of invention and innovation, a great sense of humor, and a campaign goal well into the three-comma-club. It’s a real challenge to capture its energy, potential, and essential DNA as a short phrase—one that will stimulate the donor community to sit up, take notice, and reach deep. So I’m reflecting on great campaign themes we’ve developed, exploring how we got there, and trying to apply that process to this current work.

In our work some years back with Brown University, our research and conversations with major gift prospects unearthed two somewhat contradictory emotions. First, they were incredibly proud of their alma mater, and felt it was somewhat devalued among its Ivy peers. Second, they felt that the President was accomplishing great things, but were concerned that the campaign emphasis on graduate and professional programs might diminish the undergraduate program. As we wrestled with this, we arrived at a solution (later enfranchised in a CASE Grand Gold Award): Boldly Brown. This simple two word phrase captured the enthusiasm of the donor community and the essence of the experience – Brown is a positive choice, an experience unlike any other, and a place that values and supports boldness. We knew we had hit the mark when students appeared on campus with t-shirts proclaiming “not timid,” and other bold statements.

In another instance, we were working with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while they were renovating and adding to Orchestra Hall—the long term home of the company. Their philanthropic goals – refurbish Orchestra Hall, and build new offices, plus rehearsal and performance space – were to be accomplished by motivating donors with the theme “Campaign for Orchestra Hall.” We jumped in proclaiming, “It’s far more than that. It’s destined to be the Lincoln Center or Kennedy Center of Chicago.” The campaign name we devised was In Concert: The Campaign for Symphony Center. The “in concert” aspect of the name captured the coming together of Chicago philanthropists and civic leaders to accomplish something great together: the development of a brand new, multifaceted, cultural space. And the conductor’s batons that we emblazoned with the theme and distributed at the gala were snapped up unlike any other tchotchke I’ve ever seen. I still carry one with me today.

The last example that springs to mind was for a much smaller institution: Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. The assumption in the philanthropic community was that Sidwell was a rich school—after all, children of Presidents, Vice Presidents, Ambassadors, and Secretaries of this and that all attended. Yet one-third of its enrollment was on full scholarship support. This commitment arises out of the School’s Quaker formation, which is reflected in the very structure and operation of the School, in which weekly Meeting is the community’s wellspring. And when, in Meeting, a member of the community is called by a higher power to speak, that person simply, quietly, without drama, stands up. Friends Stand Up: The Campaign for Sidwell Friends School was descriptive, in that it refers to that moment when an individual is at his or her most Quakerly, and it described the donors who responded to the call; it was injunctive, demanding that real friends of the school stand up for it; and it was the basis of the creative strategy, as well. When their very talented music director, Ricky Payton Sr., wrote a “Friends Stand Up” anthem that brought tears to everybody’s eyes and earned a standing ovation, we knew we’d gotten it just right.

The thing that all these themes share? They would fit nobody else, and they answer the need of the institution at a specific moment in time with a vibrant call for involvement. I’d write more about this but can’t right now; I’m late for a brainstorming meeting!