The dog days of summer are officially here. The office is a little quieter and the only thing filling up your inbox are Out of Office replies. It’s a great time to step back and tackle some bigger issues that usually sit on the back burner. Welcome to our Summer Checklist.
The annual fund is quickly becoming the marketing of advancement shops. (Or maybe it always has been. A debate for another time.) And marketing, whether you like it or not, means content. And lots of it.
Which is actually great. There are plenty of businesses in the world that struggle to find compelling stories to tell their customers. But colleges and universities have great stories growing on trees. Heck, if you’re on the right campus, you might be able to tell some interesting stories about your trees. Looking at you, University of Alabama.
Once you start analyzing your prospects and segmenting them into groups for communication, the next logical step is coming up with stuff to actually put in front of them. Otherwise known as, your content strategy.
So how do you do it? Here are some ideas.
Look in the Mirror
Any good content strategy starts with a content audit. Take a look at what you’re already sending out to people and how you’re communicating with them. Are you relying on one mass message to your whole base? Using alumni’s majors as the thing to steer your talking points?
Looking in the mirror allows you to assess where you’re at and figure out where you can start making improvements. Personalization, in our opinion, is the best thing you can do for your content.
That doesn’t mean auto-filling an alum’s name at the beginning of an email or prepopulating their major into the same form letter everyone else gets. That stuff is no longer novel. It’s expected. With companies like Amazon and Netflix catering everything you see on a screen to your individual preferences, basics like that have become table stakes.
But you can’t move forward without taking the time to understand where you’re at. It might require a little brutal honesty, but you’ll be better for it in the long run.
Create Content that Ignites Action
There’s a reason content is the biggest word in marketing these days. People like it. They spend time with it. They form a connection to it. And that connection, if executed properly, ignites action. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what you’re after.
Now, creating content that does that is easier said than done. So how do you do it? By having a set strategy to work off. Because you won’t be able to do it all at once.
Those segments we talked about earlier? They’re going to play a critical part. Say you’ve created a segment for people who you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt (because they engaged something on social), are interested in the cancer research happening at your school.
You’ve got the group all set to go. Now you’ve just got to think about what message, and in what format, to create some content you can put in front of them. Perhaps it’s a series of emails that concludes with an ask. Or maybe it’s a few Facebook ads that pop up specifically for those people. Or maybe it’s a direct mail piece that elevates the material.
It all boils down to three things: Your audience, the subject matter and your ask. By thinking critically about all three, you can design content that speaks to the audience about something they love in a way that will resonate with them.
Content isn’t a one-size-fits-all game. But by creating unique content for the right audience, you’ll start forming the connection that leads to action.
Invest in Video
The elephant in the content room is video. And guess what? We’re all in. The internet is increasingly becoming video heavy because video draws people in and engages them for a longer period of time than almost any other content.
It’s an investment of time, money and resources, but the results can be incredibly moving and instructive. There are already a bunch of schools creating incredible video content to help their annual fund efforts. We’ll happily sit and watch every single one of them. And if we find them that engaging, imagine how actual alums, with an actual connection to your school, will feel.
When it comes to video, it can help to, well, have a little help. If your school already has a video team, see if you can borrow their services for a while. Or find a small, local production company to partner with. Often, they’re not only experts on actually shooting and editing your video, but since they’re so familiar with creation, they can help you brainstorm how to best tell your story on camera.
Find those people and rely on them heavily in the beginning as you learn the ropes. As you get more and more videos under your belt, you can start to get even more adventurous.
That wraps up our Annual Fund Summer Checklist (check out part one and part two if you haven’t). Next week we’ll have another one dedicated to leadership giving. Stay tuned!