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.  

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.

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.


A Digital Year

2018 was a banner year for email newsletters that we’ve developed and mailed for various clients including the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins Medicine. In each case, these have been highly targeted (both audience and content) and therefore are producing strong results. Whether directed at donors, patients, staff, or parents, these have grown to become a vital part of the media mix for clients looking to engage an audience on a more regular basis – particularly where video can add an new element to supplement our print magazines that continue to reach the same audience. Let us know if we can help enhance your digital reach or recommend new ways to create a print and digital balance.

Journalism and Storytelling

Pop-Up Magazine is inspired by a magazine but is performed onstage, creating an immersive experience that uniquely blends journalism and storytelling with music and other mediums. Here’s an excellent review of how its co-founders have learned to engage with an expanding audience.