How to Build a Messaging Arc for Better Fundraising Campaigns

November 8, 2020
7 minutes

A great fundraising campaign should be like a cake (and really, so should everything, in our opinion.) Each slice—or touchpoint—of your year-end fundraising cake should have the same icing, flavor, and look; whether it’s a social post, email, or direct mail piece, you want donors to recognize the consistency of your message across all of your engagement channels.

The consistency of your donors' experience during a fundraising campaign is crucial—and the foundation of consistency is your campaign messaging. Fundraising messaging must accomplish two things: first, it must have a through-line for the entire campaign—you can't say drastically different things each time you communicate with donors. And second, your messaging must build on itself over time... you've got to continuously develop your reasoning for giving. Lucky for you, both pieces of this consistency cake can be achieved with a strong messaging arc.

Messaging Arcs Basics

Let’s start with the basics. A messaging arc is a runway you create (intentionally or unintentionally) before and during a campaign. Over time, an intentional and well-planned messaging arc creates a cohesive and compelling case for support. Messaging arcs build momentum (and to some extent hype) going into a campaign. Most importantly, messaging arcs lay critical groundwork for your fundraising campaign—and that means you don’t have to cram every single last piece of information into one lil' ol' fundraising email.

Ideally, your messaging arc begins a couple of weeks before your fundraising campaign begins. In the weeks leading up to your campaign, your messaging will likely be educational. Think about it like planting seeds for the main event. You want to build awareness of your fundraising campaign's focus in a way that supports the ask.

For example, let’s say you were a children’s social services agency and you were going to run a year-end campaign to raise money for Continuous Glucose Monitors for children with Type 1 Diabetes. The early stages of your messaging arc might focus on stories about the challenges of Type 1 Diabetes for children and their parents. The messaging would educate donors about these challenges and give them an understanding of the value of a medical device that would lessen these challenges.

Building Your Messaging Arc

To start building your messaging arc, I recommend that you pull out your calendar to see what fundraising activities you’re planning.

Here’s a hypothetical calendar of fundraising activities that we’ll use as an example.

Image of a calendar with fundraising activities planned.

Getting an overview of everything that you plan to do from emails to phone calls to social posts to direct mail will help you understand the number of touchpoints you have leading into your fundraising campaign. Once you know how many communications opportunities you have, you can think about what you need to say in those pre-campaign communications. This is your messaging arc in action.

Using the example of the children’s social service nonprofit I mentioned earlier, their pre-campaign messaging arc and communication might include:

  • An informational piece about what’s it’s like to manage childhood Type 1 Diabetes on a day-to-day basis
  • A story about what it’s like for a parent to have to take their young child’s blood sugar levels multiple times a day
  • A story about the impact childhood Type 1 Diabetes has on a child’s ability to just be a child

As you can see from these examples, you're laying the groundwork by 1) educating donors about the problem and 2) giving them tangible stories about the impact of the problem.

Connecting the Messaging Dots

Once you've got the messaging arc started, it's just a matter of connecting it to your campaign's ask, which you probably already have in the bag. If you're asking for funding to buy those Continuous Glucose Monitors for children with Type 1 Diabetes, now's the time to ask the ask. Use the children from the stories you told earlier and express how their lives will be easier, better, and waaaay more fun with Continuous Glucose Monitors... if the donor will give.

You see, the ask is the pivotal moment of your campaign's plot—everything you've communicated up to that point has led to the ask. And now, everything after the ask will shine a light on the impact of the donation that came as a result of the ask.

Piece. of. cake.

Take the time to consider how your fundraising ask can develop a series of messages that build the case for support. A well-planned and executed messaging arc will take your fundraising campaign to the next level through consistency and sophisticated narrative development.

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