5 tips for naming your fundraising campaign

Enticing donors to contribute to your academic mission or other laudable cause requires a deft touch, starting with selecting its name. Make it banner-worthy.

I’ve named a lot of things over the course of my life, but nothing has induced the level of anxiety associated with the naming of a fundraising campaign.

Everyone—from the executive team to your volunteers—has an opinion.

Your first step as “namer in chief” is to accept the fact that you will not please everyone—and that’s OK. (I once dubbed a jumping show horse Flying Sparkles.) In his 1952 address to the Democratic National Convention, Adlai Stevenson reminded us, “Words calculated to catch everyone may catch no one.”

These five tips and cautionary tales will help you select a name for your fundraising campaign that sticks in the heads and hearts of your donors:

1. Think big—but not too big. Campaigns of any type are one of the few remaining opportunities for soaring rhetoric. Here one can speak of bright shining moments, points of light and the hoof beats of history. A campaign name should inspire and motivate, but you don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver. If your campaign case is centered on increasing your university’s scholarship endowment or upgrading the athletic fields, Transformations probably isn’t a good option.

2. Be authentic. Make sure your campaign name matches the true character of your organization. Southern Virginia University, a liberal arts university that educates students in a Latter Day Saints environment, is in the midst of a $50 million campaign called Advancing the Genius of Small. The university’s leaders and fundraisers are focused on enhancing the SVU experience—that of intense individualized instruction—not on driving a “bigger, better, faster, more” agenda. Their ingenious campaign name reflects their commitment.

3. Beware of crowdsourcing. Many organizations turn to their community for inspiration when considering a campaign name. To borrow a phrase from the ancient mapmakers: There Be Dragons. If you involve key audiences in naming your fundraising campaign, you risk disenfranchising some supporters by not embracing their input in your final choice. If you’re considering using social media to solicit input from the masses, tread carefully. When Mountain Dew launched a “Dub the Dew” marketing effort to name a new green apple flavored soda, a bevy of undesirable options—Diabeetus and Gushing Granny among them—made their way to Mountain Dew’s publicly viewable list of top contenders.

4. Accentuate the positive. If brand awareness is on your side, make the most of it. The University of Southern California named its $6 billion campaign Fas Regna Trojae, a line of Virgil’s poetry that is etched on one of the university’s iconic statues. For the Trojan community, this is a powerful phrase (translation: “the destined reign of Troy”) that speaks to the university’s vision of ascending to elite status among institutions of higher education.

5. Don’t state the obvious. Campaigns are no place for lazy language. Your words have to work for you. Don’t be the organization that launchesThe Campaign for (Your Name Here) or The 25th Anniversary Campaign. That’s like naming your child The Offspring of James and Mary. Your donors will view your organization and your campaign as vanilla in a sea of more interesting flavors. You’ve been entrusted with inspiring a community of supporters to invest their hard-earned dollars in your mission. Strive for mint chocolate chip—or, better yet, spumoni.

Deb Barshafsky is a member of the Advancement team at Georgia Regents University.

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