The challenge: Prioritizing one pillar of a multi-pronged capital campaign appeal.

The University of Manitoba’s Front and Centre campaign was an ambitious initiative: its $500 million goal represented the largest philanthropic appeal in the province’s history. The fundraising goal was intended to support five strategic pillars – each of which were comprised of multiple related components.

One of these five pillars was financial support for graduate students. Of the 15 leading research intensive universities in Canada, the University of Manitoba offered the lowest level of financial support – a key incentive to attracting and retaining graduate students. In order to be more competitive with other institutions in Canada and worldwide, a transformative investment was required.

Graduate students are the engine that powers a university’s research, and they become key leaders and influencers in our knowledge economy. Our task was to make it clear to potential donors that supporting grad students isn’t just good for the university: it’s a direct way of making a difference on issues that are important to all of us.

The solution: Improve the understanding of what grad students do, and their impact on the world.

Our campaign coincided with the U of M’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition – a regional chapter of a nationwide competition where graduate students present their research to a panel of peers and community members in under 180 seconds. This time limit forces the participants to make their complex work accessible to a broad audience, without compromising the importance and application of their theories.

We used the 3MT event as a launchpad for a campaign that showcased the innovative work being done by graduate students. Following the event, we arrange for one-on-one video interviews with each to discuss their research in their own words (and with less of a time constraint). The sit-down format allowed us to discuss the work, and each students’ motivations, in more depth.

On camera, we captured moving stories about the personal experiences and perspectives that motivated each grad student’s research. One student grew up in an earthquake-prone country, and was exploring new materials that would make buildings more resistant to natural disasters. Another recognized the rapid expansion of soybean production in Manitoba, and was proposing new solutions for the specific soil needs for this crop. Yet another drew on her travel experiences to examine how people’s interactions with nature – specifically polar bears – could motivate them to act in the interest of our planet’s climate. 

Each participant interview was edited into a one-minute video that could be used to support online and email fundraising appeals. The collection of videos was housed on a fulfillment page on the fundraising campaign website, which linked to the university’s news feed and other videos of each student’s 3MT presentations.

The interviews were also adapted for advertising purposes, with edits created for preroll and interstitial video ads that were targeted to donor audiences.

University of Manitoba: 3MT campaign

A print, digital and out-of-home campaign also shared these stories, and drove audiences to the fulfillment site to discover more about these students’ innovative work, and to encourage donations to support similar innovation in Manitoba.

University of Manitoba: 3MT campaign
University of Manitoba: 3MT campaign
University of Manitoba: 3MT campaign


Support for graduate students was one of five pillars under the university’s $500 million philanthropic appeal. Over the course of the campaign, we helped promote several appeals, and to recognize donor support as a means of encouraging campaign momentum. 

When the university concluded its campaign, it had raised $626.2 million – exceeding their unprecedented and ambitious fundraising goal by more than 25%.

The Trailblazer brand has changed how we think about ourselves, how we speak about ourselves, and most importantly, how we act. It’s challenged us to go beyond the expected and has made a huge contribution to our success.
John Kearsey,
VP External, University of Manitoba (2010-2022)