Campaigns, Donor Relations

From extravagant galas which delight attendees with videos broadcast against the most historic buildings on campus, or multi-city affairs that showcase campaign initiatives from sea to shining sea, campaign kickoff events are as wide ranging as the organizations that they represent. It is not uncommon for as much planning to go into the development and execution of campaign launch events as does the crafting of a compelling case for support. But there are several trends worth noting for those contemplating black-tie versus day-of-service and some questions to ask yourself as you and your team consider the possibilities.

Campaign Launch Trends

The first trend that has emerged over the last decade is inclusiveness. Historically, many campaign launches were restricted to a very small number of top donors. While this certainly promoted exclusivity for the attendees which reinforced how important they were to the campaign, it did little to build momentum beyond that group. Recently, we have seen many clients seeking ways to make the campaign launch event a community-wide event to build awareness and carry out the message.

Multi-faceted events:
As suggested above, the lone, black-tie gala seems to be working its way out. In an effort to be more inclusive, many charities are developing a series of campaign launch events, each tailored to a specific audience. For some, a community-wide, “come one, come all” event is planned for the day after a smaller, more intimate event focused on top donors, volunteers and partners. For some institutions, a concert is a popular way to broadly kick off the campaign.

Use of technology:
Many organizations are leaning heavily on technology as part of their campaign kickoff events. For some, this means creating multimedia presentations to help carry the message at the event. For others, they are using technology to help bridge distances by broadcasting aspects of the event(s) across the globe. There have even been examples where events are held simultaneously across the country (or world) and the effective use of technology allows all attendees, regardless of their location, to feel equally a part of the festivities.

Demonstration of impact:
Most institutions publicly announce their campaigns after achieving 60% or more of their campaign goal. As such, there is a tremendous amount of philanthropy to celebrate, but more importantly, there is a tremendous amount of impact to demonstrate. Many institutions illustrate the importance of the campaign by humanizing it through impact demonstration at the event. Additionally, some are creating immersive experiences as part of their kick offs that highlight both impact and the “people” of the institution making it happen. It is important to note, however, that impact needs to be balanced by current and future need.

The use of external special event planners:
Depending on the scope and scale of the anticipated event, many institutions are contracting with external event planning groups to help plan and more importantly execute the event. Those deciding to go this route often cite limited staff and or a desire to not overburden the staff as a key driver for making that decision. Additionally, those same institutions state that such event planners often bring creativity and solutions that would not be imagined otherwise. That said, working with such external providers is an expensive endeavor.

Volunteers in planning and execution:
For decades the events surrounding the campaign, its launch and conclusion, were often the domain of volunteer groups. Today, the most sophisticated development shops limit the tactical involvement of volunteers as it relates to event planning. Their focus needs to be on leveraging relationships, not event logistics.

Regardless of whether you focus on a concert on the green or a more academic affair, successful campaign kickoffs have several defining characteristics.

Convey that the campaign to date is a success, not that it is finished. No one should leave feeling that the campaign is going to be easy or that the hard work is behind them.

Promote a sense of destiny, not inevitability. Nothing about this campaign, its success or impact, should be seen as a forgone conclusion.

Demonstrate clarity of purpose, not rigidity. Everyone should be able to see that this campaign is mission-centered, but all should find a place where they fit.

Create urgency, not desperation. Urgency is a call to action. Desperation limits vision.
Consider unintended consequences. A kickoff must be authentic to the institution and its culture. A kickoff that is too brash (or too humble) will create dissonance for donors.

Consider the timing. It is important to take notice of other national or regional events that may take attention away from your big night. National elections or competing events compel us to think critically about the “when” of our kickoffs as much as the “what.”

So, as you set out to plan the next great campaign kickoff, consider the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the campaign kickoff?
  • Who are the audiences?
  • Is it only one event or a series of events?
  • What is the experience that they want their attendees to have?
  • Is there a regional component to the kickoffs?
  • What is the role for patients, students, faculty, physicians and staff?
  • What is the role for volunteers?
  • What is the role for our most notable alumni/celebrities?
  • What budget limitations exist?

Regardless of the strategy, enjoy the moment. The kickoff event is the culmination of years of hard work and should be celebrated as such. What’s more, the kickoff serves as a tangible celebration of the philanthropy that will impact your organization for years and generations to come. Soaking up the energy from the successful kickoff event will give you and your team the fuel you need to carry that momentum until the next big party: The Campaign Conclusion!