- My gift doesn’t matter compared to the million dollar gift that some other alum just made
- My alma mater already has enough money, look at the endowment
- I don’t want my gift to go toward paying the electricity bill
Sometimes it is easy to think that this industry is unique in having many assumptions so top of mind that must be overcome. However, many of the country’s largest brands have similar challenges when it comes to consumers’ perceptions of their product or service. Two brands dealing with image issues are Olive Garden and McDonald’s. So what did these brands do about it? And, can annual giving departments do something similar?
Both Olive Garden and McDonald’s decided to confront consumer perceptions head on. For Olive Garden, the company’s brand image had declined quite a bit over recent years. The company had become synonymous with bland food and cheap, inauthentic Italian cuisine. Many restaurant goers believe that if you really know Italian food, you wouldn’t step foot in an Olive Garden. As such, sales had been declining rapidly. The company knew its image was part of the problem. So what did it do?
The company took on those negative perceptions in the most direct of manners. Olive Garden decided the best way to overcome the notion that it did not have good, authentic Italian food would be to allow big-time Italian foodies to try Olive Garden food. So, the company created a unique PR campaign. The company and its agencies created a line of food trucks that would be sent out to cities across the country, and would be parked in high foot traffic areas, but also in areas synonymous with being Italian. For instance, the food truck went to the quintessentially Italian North End of Boston and parked right by many famous mom and pop Italian restaurants.
Now, for sure there was some blowback, but the company not only got their food into the hands of many people who otherwise would not be sitting down in one of the chain’s restaurants, it also got a ton of press out of the idea.
McDonald’s also recently had a campaign focused on breaking down assumptions about its food, but McDonald’s campaign was focused online and on tv. Called “Our Food, Your Questions”, the company set up display advertising at bus stops and on street corners that would actually record individuals’ questions about McDonald’s food. After creating a teaser commercial with these questions (What’s really in your Chicken McNuggets? Would you feed McDonald’s food to your own family?), McDonald’s then created a series of in-depth videos where they took viewers through the process for exactly how their food was made. Instead of just coming out with PR statements about the company’s food, the videos took you into the plants where the food was created. it was a lot more illustrative and impactful (and somewhat risky) to show it.
The Annual Fund Assumptions:
Now the examples above are of companies with huge advertising, PR and marketing budgets. But this doesn’t mean that annual fund offices can’t directly confront assumptions as well. One powerful weapon that many annual funds have been able to use recently is the infographic.
Infographics are highly visual ways of displaying numerous statistics. Unlike a standard letter, an infographic has a higher likelihood of being read because of its easy to understand design and bite size pieces of information. And, infographics are a great way to combat those three annual fund assumptions mentioned at the beginning of the post. You can illustrate things like:
- The impact of small gifts, when added together. Carolina’s infographic below does a great job illustrating how much small gifts matter.
- The difference between annual fund giving and endowment spending. The National Outdoor Leadership School shows how both are necessary for a healthy nonprofit.
- The main areas where annual giving dollars are spent. South Dakota shows just how gifts to the annual fund broke down for the 2013 year.
When you create your direct mail or email campaigns, are you directly confronting assumptions? Beyond infographics, what other unique types of PR campaigns could higher ed institutions be starting to overcome widely held beliefs about university fundraising? Share your thoughts!