Teasing Out Our Touting Targets (Pt 2): Why We Often Overlook Eagles On Campus

Posted more than a year ago.

Earlier this week I posted about the importance of touting our campaign efforts publicly. And I suggested that, while we’ve previously done a good job of telling the OC story in the “right places” (civic community, donors, alumni, etc.), we often overlook one massively important constituency: our on-campus family

Students. Faculty. Staff. Volunteers. Students. (Yeah, I’m listing them twice.) Why aren’t we telling them the campaign story with the same frequency and intentionality we’re using with our major donors?

Before I answer, let me just say two things:

(1) OC isn’t alone in this potential faux pas. Most universities and non-profits focus little time or resource in reporting to their own internal communities.

(2) We’re doing it differently this time. I’ll tell you exactly how in an upcoming post, but hold us accountable to the information and explanations you deserve!

Okay, on to my answer. Why would we overlook the campus family, especially our students, in telling the campaign story? A few thoughts for you...

Campaign communication is time-consuming and expensive.

As a team, we spend hundreds of hours tweaking the campaign message (not the mission, mind you, the message) for different donor, alumni, and community audiences. Our marketing team gets involved in packaging this information together and tailoring it for maximum impact. We then invest time, talent, and dollars pushing this information through various strategic channels—email, hard mail, web, social media, news outlets, etc.

That’s just Round One. If we’re doing our jobs really well, then we follow these initial messages with strategically timed reminders, work updates, and more. We thank everyone who needs a “thank you” and celebrate our donors in public and private receptions, ribbon cuttings, and more. 

We love doing all of these things (seriously), but with a small team like ours, these efforts leave us spread pretty thin sometimes. Before we’ve even attempted to give updates to the on-campus family, we’re short on time to get other important jobs done: data management, alumni engagement efforts, relationship management, grant writing, reporting, budgeting, face-to-face fundraising, and more. 

Now when time is short, and you’re very conscious of the money you’ve already spent, your first instinct is to limit communication internally. You assume your employees and students already know what’s going on by virtue of proximity. Surely internal audiences will see things happening, put two and two together, make all the right assumptions, and internalize the positive campaign spirit and sense of progress through osmosis.

That perspective doesn’t really hold water (some pun intended after that “osmosis” bit), but you can see how we might get there. Right or wrong, the point is: when time and resources are limited, you focus your attention on informing those you see as furthest outside the loop.

No one asks more questions than the on-campus family.

When push comes to shove, few people have more of a vested interest in the University and its projects than our students and employees. We live and work here every day. It stands to reason, then, that we have strong opinions about OC. We also have strong biases for or against certain investments. Couple that with the fact that we’re more comfortable than your average Eagles raising those issues with Campaign decision-makers and you get a perfect storm of inquiring minds.

I covered this some in my post on transparency, but our past philosophy has often been “less is more” when it comes to sharing campaign decisions with the on-campus family. Why raise questions before projects have even started? And why debate decisions that are already in motion? Our campus leaders are making strategic choices based on prayerful, holistic thinking, after all. Let’s save ourselves the pain of the conversation and instead encourage the campus to give our leadership the benefit of the doubt.

Should students and employees give our leaders the benefit of the doubt? Absolutely. (I can tell you from first-hand experience that our leadership team is made up of kind, servant-hearted, God-fearing, student-and-employee-loving men and women.) Should our internal communication philosophy hinge on the benefit of the doubt? Probably not.

We’ve assumed the on-campus family is too busy or uninterested.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” you’re thinking now. “I’m on campus now (or I was in _______ ) and I care a lot about what happens.” I don’t doubt it. Our students and employees invest so much of themselves here—of course they care. Unquestionably.

So why the assumption? Well, in my mind, it comes down to the difference between caring what happens and having an interest in the Campaign. Students, for example, are very aware and concerned about how we invest in their programs (and, by extension, how we use their tuition). But our students have their gears turning a mile-a-minute academically, spiritually, relationally, philosophically, and more. It’s difficult to find a more sidetracked group of people.

If we’re not very intentional about keeping our campaign messaging digestible and relevant, it can be challenging to reach the students. (Students – please correct me if I’m wrong.) One could make a similar statement about our faculty and staff, who, as I’ve mentioned, are burning the candle from both ends and the middle to care for and build out this wonderful University of ours.

Once again, this isn’t a good excuse, but with resources and time tight…you get the idea.

It’s just not done.

That could be a little strong, but I don’t think so. When it comes to campaign best practice, hardly anyone out there is focusing on informing and involving their internal community. Given the three reasons above (and probably more), why would telling the story internally be worth the effort?

That’s another very good question. I’ll tell you why tomorrow.

-Will