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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Choosing a Theme for Your Fundraising Campaign
Your campaign theme is a banner. You march under it toward a special goal. But does it matter what the banner says?

by Tom Ahern

Nothing is likely to receive as much anguished attention from the campaign committee as choosing a theme. Don’t torture yourself. Honestly, almost any reasonable name will do.

Your theme is a banner. You march under it toward a special goal. But does it matter what the banner says? Not much.

Your theme simply distinguishes “the campaign” from your other, more routine fundraising activities.           

Here are some samples from campaigns I’ve worked on:

  • Urgent: The Campaign for a New St. Luke’s (for a new emergency department)
  • It’s Live! The Campaign for Great Music Forever (for a symphony endowment)           
  • Endowed Chairs at Colgate University: Academic Leadership in the 21st Century
  • The Emergence of Stony Brook           
  • The Campaign for the Next Century (for a historic home in need of repairs)
  • Sanctuary Plus: The Campaign to Expand My Sister’s Place (for a women’s shelter)
  • The Be Exceptional Campaign (for a private school)
  • Prelude: Step One of a Three-Step Campaign (for a symphony’s campaign to cover a structural deficit)
  • The Campaign to Do More (for a women’s shelter)
ALSO BY TOM AHERN: Successful donor newsletters, websites, annual reports, donor acquisition programs, email, direct mail, advertising, planned giving programs, and – yes, capital campaigns, too – all have one thing in common: behind each stands a well-reasoned, emotionally satisfying case for support. Seeing through a Donor’s Eyes offers hard-won secrets for selling your vision and mission effectively.

Capital Quest, a U.S. consulting firm, has this advice: “[A campaign theme is] usually three to five words that summarize the vision of the campaign, focusing on the benefits to the community of a successful campaign.”           

An online search will quickly turn up dozens of ideas for potential themes. A search under the keywords “university capital campaign,” for example, quickly produced dozens of options including:

  • The straightforward (Campaign for Purdue)
  • The anniversary related (Centennial Campaign)
  • The forward looking (Campaign for Delaware: Positioning the College for the Future)
  • The majestic (A Grand Destiny: The Penn State Campaign)
  • Those suggesting “giving back” (“Generations” Campaign at Notre Dame)
  • Strong emotions (The Miami University Campaign: For Love and Honor)
  • The pursuit of excellence (A New Vision of Excellence: The Campaign for Central Michigan University)

Here’s what you do.

At that scary, indecisive moment, when your name-picking committee comes down to just a handful of top contenders, there’s just one relevant question you need to ask, “Which name will raise more money?”

If none seems to have an advantage, put them all in a hat.

Now pick one.

Tom Ahern is the author of Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money, and Raising More Money with Newsletters than You Ever Thought Possible, all published by Emerson & Church. He is counted among North America's top authorities on fundraising, advocacy, and "persuasion" communications. For more information, visit his website at www.aherncomm.com.

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