Turning Transactional Communication Into Engagement

Fundraising campaigns demand ongoing communication. Often this comes across as simply transactional – giving receipts, event notifications, announcements, and so on.

These can be mailed or emailed but, in either case, they take time and resources. So, how do we maximize the opportunity to move from transactions to communication that engages our audience?

Let’s first establish that simply asking for money is a weak position. And that asking for partnership is a much stronger one. We’re not just trying to convert more prospects into donors but converting more donors into a deeper relationship with the organization.

Instead of hoping donors will give, let’s give donors hope by changing our messaging strategy from superficial to substantive. Instead of basic goals, let’s present specific budgets for 3-5 outcome-oriented initiatives. Rather than highlighting the gifts we’ve secured, let’s speak to how they created enduring philanthropic partnerships. Instead of asking for money, let’s encourage donors to join us for conversations that may define shared purposes and goals.

Positive messaging is vital to constituency building. Let’s start a conversation.  

A Record Gift for a Public University

Congratulations to Kristen DeVries and the rest of the leadership team at Western Michigan University. Today they announced a $550 million donation to the University – the largest private gift ever to a public university.

The funding, to be delivered to the university’s foundation over 10 years, will flow in three main streams: $300 million for Western Michigan’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine; $200 million for need-based financial aid, faculty hiring and other university initiatives; and $50 million for the school’s Bronco athletic programs.

As Kristen noted, “An extraordinary day at an extraordinary institution! I am humbled by these selfless donors, whose compassion will transform the lives of our students and our community generation after generation!”

Well done!

Plan to Communicate

Strategic planning has always been an important part of an organization and how it seeks to function. Today, the planning process has taken on an even greater role for those grappling with 2020, its outcomes and implications. Isn’t that every organization?

With budget shortfalls, reorganization, new or redesigned programs, delayed fundraising campaigns, or other disruptions, well-run organizations are doubling down on planning – adapting to create more impact now and into the future.

A recent foundation presentation provided some useful guidelines:

  • Create a shared vision and develop shared values
  • Make a plan designed to be flexible and adaptable
  • Plan for different scenarios
  • Do a needs assessment
  • Stay focused on data collection
  • Reflect and learn
  • Seek advice from others

To that, I would add…don’t let donor relationships lapse. Now is the time for more communication (printed and digital) not less.

In recent weeks, we’ve developed strategic plan documents for Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania. Please let us know if your organization might benefit from our experience.

Atlanta University Center Consortium

During much of 2020, MSK has been involved with The Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC). Located in the heart of metropolitan Atlanta, AUCC is the world’s oldest and largest association of historically black, private institutions of higher education. Originally formed in 1929, the Consortium is a nonprofit organization that operates on behalf of its member institutions: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College.

Our work has focused on a Data Science Initiative (DSI) launched in 2019 with initial seed funding from UnitedHealth Group. AUCC DSI is working to increase the number of highly skilled underrepresented minorities in data science and to advance data science research, especially as it impacts minority communities.

The DSI has a broad range of audiences from high school students and guidance counselors to government and prospective corporate partners. MSK developed institutional branding, content and digital communication for AUCC and the DSI. The initiative continues to have success in all spheres with plans for increased print and digital marketing in 2021.  

Purpose-driven Donors


Our long-time client, the University of Pennsylvania, is entering the final year of “The Power of Penn: Advancing Knowledge for Good,” a $4.1 billion fundraising campaign. This time period brings a wealth of new print and digital initiatives for the University and for individual schools including the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. MSK is launching the next phase of a communications campaign built around the theme Inventing the Future. Print, email and web components have been created to inspire donors around the globe to partner with Penn to help accomplish the personal, philanthropic objectives each donor has for the coming year. This approach seeks to lift the sights of loyal donors, promote acquisition of other purpose-driven donors and, with ongoing stewardship, lead to higher retention rates within both categories.

Philanthropic Climate Survey

The folks at CCS Fundraising have published the results of a survey of nonprofit organizations to measure the immediate philanthropic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey, conducted between April 20 and May 1, covers the behaviors, progress and challenges of 1,183 individuals representing nonprofit organizations across all major philanthropic sectors.

It’s an interesting report that provides good insight and perspective to integrate into short- and long-term fundraising plans. It’s available for download here.

Giving More

A new, survey by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) examines voluntary donations to U.S. colleges and universities. The survey covered the fiscal year from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. As expected, Johns Hopkins University blew all other Maryland institutions — and most institutions in the nation — out of the water with an impressive intake of $2.7 billion.

More than half of Hopkins’ voluntary funding came from one alumnus donor: Michael Bloomberg. “The donation is four times the amount of the next largest foundation grant reported on the survey,” the report notes. “Without it…giving would have barely kept pace with inflation.”

The CASE survey reported other notable findings involving Maryland institutions. For example, the United States Naval Academy raised more than any other public baccalaureate institution in 2019.

Nationwide, donation funding totaled $49.6 billion, a 6.1% increase from the previous fiscal year. It was the highest funding level ever reported by CASE’s annual survey, which has been conducted since 1957. The largest proportion of contributions came from foundations, representing about 34.3% of the 2019 donations total. Alumni support came in second, comprising 22.6% of total contributions. The following charts link to the full survey:

E-vents

As part of our ongoing work for the University of Pennsylvania, we’ve developed the next in a series of email newsletters – this time a weekly, automated email promoting on-campus events to those within the institution. Our process included project planning with University communications and technology staff, graphic design for the template, setting-up a development environment for testing, integrating the events RSS/JSON feed with the newsletter template and listserv distribution; configurations and testing, and final roll-out with University staff. Having already developed a weekly email for campus news, individual e-newsletters for each school, and custom invitations for events, this project utilized additional skills within our range of communications technologies.

New Initiative for Hopkins

On October 28, the dedication of the Johns Hopkins Proton Center took place at Sibley Memorial Hospital and commemorated the opening of state-of-the-art facility and honored the collaboration between Johns Hopkins, Children’s National, and Hitachi. MSK launched a special edition of Promise & Progress magazine featuring new photography and a series of custom illustrations explaining the technology in a “How it Works” approach. This was used at the event and coordinated with a new website and videos – the latter filmed in Baltimore and Sibley.

Hope. Heal. Grow.

We were delighted to work with our colleagues at CCS Fundraising and senior leadership at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital on the successful launch of their new comprehensive campaign. MSK created the campaign theme and logo; wrote and designed the case for support and companion story book; and developed a variety of print and digital support materials including stationery, volunteer guide, digital templates, and PowerPoint.