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Supporting advancement through communications

What vehicles does your organization use to communicate with its constituencies? How do you use each of them? To share about campus life? To inform of upcoming events or opportunities to get involved? Simply as a means of staying in touch? The answer is likely “all of the above”—and perhaps more.

On some level, we hope that our communications foster in our constituents a sense of goodwill that translates to ongoing support of our mission. Sometimes new professional print pieces are called for—to introduce a capital campaign or reveal a program initiative, for example. But AAI encourages organizations to think more intentionally about how their existing communications tools can also effectively support their advancement goals.

Communications refers broadly to all the ways an organization brings matters to public attention, including

• print media (newsletters, bulletin, inserts, annual reports),

• comments made by the CEO at various events,

• electronic media (website, e-newsletter),

• social media.

We also define the word support in broad terms. AAI often reminds clients that there are at least five primary ways constituents offer support: through money, time, participation (as a resident, student, client, etc.), prayers and advocacy. Finding ways to appeal to each of these is the aim of effective communications.

Let’s examine some concrete ways various communications can give more attention to advancement.

Highlight development. Consider including a personal message from the development department in each issue of a newsletter. At the very least, make sure to include contact information for your development director; this should also appear on your website.

Re-think the “wish list.” Many publications include a wish list of new/used items. Consider also listing projects to which persons may donate time or skills. Examples include reading to residents, offering transportation, stuffing envelopes or providing labor for a simple renovation. Sharing prayer requests demonstrates to stakeholders a level of transparency and invites their sympathy, support and/or celebration for specific situations you face.

Reveal your strategy. Do you have a current strategic plan? Keep it in front of your constituents and, at appropriate stages, invite participation for special projects like landscaping, scholarships, or creating a benevolent fund. Would an honored class like to donate toward a need or hold a working reunion at your annual auction? Perhaps a major donor would be willing to match any gifts that come in within a certain time frame.

Tell your stories. What made a recent gift so special? Why do three generations of one family volunteer to serve together at your annual fundraiser? What’s the story behind a unique silent auction item? How is one recent graduate making a difference in a new setting? When did the tradition of resident-led Bible studies begin? Who spoke at this year’s appreciation dinner and what key points do you wish all constituents could hear? How did a distant alumna decide to send her student to spend his senior year at your school, and what has that student’s experience been? You get the idea. A good story can describe an otherwise ordinary event in ways that interest and inspire. (See Associate Dan Hess’ tips for crafting such stories.)

Note preferences. Are a lot of your constituents opting to receive communications from you electronically? Take that as a sign of internet savvy and, if you haven’t already, consider setting up the capability to receive online donations through your website. You can also seek feedback from constituents via your website, Facebook or Twitter. What would they like to hear about in future correspondence?

We recognize that none of the ideas mentioned here are particularly earthshaking. And most are easily implemented. If you are already including many of them in your communications plan, keep up the good work! But if not, we encourage you to be more intentional about selecting content for your various publications. Does each item somehow serve to reinforce your mission and purpose, and invite stakeholder support? If not, consider our ideas; they will make a difference.

Read more about AAI’s communications services, including written communications plans, here. If you would like objective (and, for a limited time, free!) feedback on how effectively your organization’s publications are currently supporting advancement , contact AAI associates Sherilyn Ortman or Dan Hess.