Celebrating Fundraising Success in Sensitive Times

As communicators, we are always mindful of how our words will be received in the world. In anxious times such as these, we are especially respectful of the mounting cries to create a just and equitable society, as well as ongoing concerns about protecting health and wellbeing.

“How appropriate is it, then,” our clients ask, “to announce or celebrate institutional victories — a campaign’s successful end, a transformational gift, or a record response to annual giving? In sharing what is good news for our colleges and universities, do we risk sounding tone deaf to our own constituents and the broader public?”

It is a fair question. Though the advice we offer here applies whenever we celebrate campaign success, now is a particularly important moment to reinforce these best practices.

It is less about the “what” and more about the “so what.”

In other words, the accent mark shouldn’t rest on how much money was raised or how many donors you engaged. Rather, lead with the impact the gift makes possible. If the “what” is record scholarship growth, the “so what” is accessibility for more diverse populations. The win we celebrate is the opportunity to attract the robust voices and varied perspectives that are a prerequisite for excellence in education. Similarly, hard-won dollars for basic science translate into foundational knowledge that could eventually jump-start applied research into diagnostics and treatments. And support for the arts and humanities heighten our campus community’s ability to see, hear, and listen differently, to understand the ethical implications of our decisions. Everything we raise money for connects back in some way to our mission. Put the focus on the impact.

Showcase the authentic voices of those philanthropy helps.

It is only natural to express gratitude. Giving the beneficiaries of philanthropy the chance to do so is more welcome to the donor than the community at large, and it amplifies the authentic — as opposed to the institutional — voice. It is never inappropriate to say thank you, and those whose lives we touch will express it more eloquently and genuinely than those speaking on behalf of the institution ever could.

Sometimes personal is best.

It is interesting that when we communicate bad news, we are trained to triage immediately, to segment audiences and prioritize who needs to know what first. Yet the impulse with good news is to shout it from the rooftop, reaching everyone within earshot at the same time. But for those times when it can feel insensitive to share good news broadly, share it strategically — with those who will benefit most from knowing.

When you have positive news to announce, we encourage you to think about your audiences in a very targeted way. Who really needs to know? Who should hear it first? Who might look at your institution differently, or take action after hearing your news? How can you personalize the announcement for your closest audiences, whether that involves a phone call from the newest endowed chair holder, a note from a scholarship recipient, or a letter from the president? Customizing the approach to key leaders and top donors makes good news more memorable.

Bottom line

It is natural to feel elated when you have received a major gift in response to your hard work, or when you close a campaign that has brought your institution closer to fulfilling its vision. Just remember that when we communicate, we want to inspire as well as inform. And the most compelling way to do that is to celebrate the difference you will make in the world.