The challenge: Commemorating individual donations, while leveraging their collective impact.

When the University of Manitoba (U of M) launched its Front and Centre campaign, it set a fundraising goal of $500 million – the largest appeal of this kind in the history of the province. Before broadening the ask to a public audience, the university followed a best-practice strategy by first approaching donors who were in a position to make substantial gifts. 

Celebrating the now, encouraging the next.

With gifts in the millions being entrusted to the university, and the key strategic pillars of its campaign in place, a welcome challenge emerged. Gratitude and recognition was warranted for each transformative gift; but these financial milestones were also an opportunity to encourage more philanthropic support. This called for a balance between celebrating the ‘now’ donation, while encouraging the ‘next’ donation.

The solution: Reflect each gift as singular, not a series.

Donor stewardship involves a multi-step relationship, and the recognition of a gift is among the final steps in a process that can take months or years to culminate. So, a templated approach to gift recognition would not work for two reasons.

  • There are too many variables involved for a one-size-fits-all approach, such as the nature and direction of the gift, the donor’s comfort level with the recognition, and particulars like naming recognition and the creation of new institutions.
  • Treating each mindfully-negotiated gift as an also-ran would undermine its significance, and signal indifference to donors.
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign

For each gift announcement, ED worked closely with the U of M’s marketing and donor relations teams to learn about donor motivations, specific projects and initiatives supported by the gift, and intended or anticipated outcomes from their giving. Each recognition story was developed to appropriately commemorate that individual gift.

To ensure that each discrete announcement lent to the momentum of the larger campaign, the agency sought ways to tether the ads. Obvious design solutions included the inclusion of a campaign logo and graphic approach. But we also assigned a dedicated author and editor to the announcements, someone who was responsible for maintaining consistency in the storytelling approach. 

University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign

Given the intended audience – wealthy and philanthropically-minded industry, business and community leaders – local and national print publications were the media of choice. The advertisements provided a strong external complement to the university’s engagement through email and alumni news and magazine outreach.

University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign
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University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign

What resulted from these seemingly-sporadic ad placements was a breadcrumb trail of progress for the campaign. With each transformational gift, the campaign sent a signal to the community that the university’s vision was being embraced and supported by influential alumni. In turn, each gift announced an implicit endorsement of the U of M as an institution worthy of philanthropic support, and one capable of delivering on its vision.

(All event photos courtesy of University of Manitoba/UM Today)

Outcomes.

Donor recognition efforts, combined with cause- and project-specific fundraising campaigns, helped the University of Manitoba build awareness and endorsement for the Front and Centre Campaign.

University of Manitoba: Donor Recognition Campaign

The university concluded the campaign having exceeded its $500 million goal by more than 25% – to a total of $626.2 million raised for the university’s various strategic initiatives.

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