Explaining a capital campaign to a 3 year-old


Back in November, I was on the streetcar in Toronto where I live, and we drove past a hospital, which happens to be a client of mine.

I overheard a boy – he must’ve been 3 or so – ask his mom, “What’s going on?” He was pointing to the scaffolding that was up around part of the hospital. The scaffolding is there because there are massive renovations happening at the hospital right now, and – naturally – a capital campaign is in progress to support all the enhancements.

The mother replied:

“They’re fixing the hospital. They’re making it better… and bigger.”

My jaw dropped.

How perfect! How simple! How concise!

This moment was a great reminder of how verbose we tend to get when developing messaging around a campaign, or a case for support.

We go overboard in order to incorporate as many details as we can.

We bring our drafts to program staff – whether they be administrators, doctors, professors, researchers, people “on the ground” for our cause – and everyone chimes in making sure you don’t forget about their needs and their programs.

Before we know it we have something institutional and wordy that’s eased the tension internally…

…but is not at all compelling.

And that means that it’s not donor-centric! It’s not showing #donorlove! It has satisfied the needs of the organization, but not of the donor.

We haven’t inspired and engaged the donor

And who are we – as fundraisers – here for?

The donor.

So the next time you sit down to do this difficult work of boiling down your campaign messaging or case for support into something the donor can get behind, imagine you’re the mother or father of a 3 year old boy, trying to explain the scaffolding around the hospital.

After all, I want to help fix the hospital! And make it better and bigger!


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Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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1 thought on “Explaining a capital campaign to a 3 year-old

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