Create a messaging arc for better nonprofit campaigns

February 25, 2021 Nonprofits Decoded Team
Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the perfect example of an arc

The elements of a fundraising campaign come together to form a synergy that drives its results. Messaging and communications are critical components in your promotional and marketing strategy.

Marketing relies on strong communications and consistency in your message across all platforms, no matter if it’s your website, annual appeal or brochure. By delivering a consistent theme, you improve the donor experience and engagement with your marketing campaigns.

Communication is the core element of your marketing, and messaging is its heart. To keep your fundraising messaging consistent, you’ll need to follow these guidelines.

Your messaging must have a specific “through-line” for the duration of the campaign. Saying different things to your donors with every communication creates confusion and frustration, reducing your marketing efforts.

Your message should snowball in effect with each communication. By developing your reasons for giving, nonprofits can create more urgency and generosity in donors.

The “messaging arc” describes how you build your communications strategy throughout the campaign.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about using this tactic in your nonprofit, foundation, or charity marketing strategy.

The basics of messaging arcs for nonprofits

For you to understand messaging arcs, let’s start with the basic principles. Think of a messaging arc like you would a structure such as the “Gateway Arch” in St. Louis, Missouri. You start at one side of the arch and launch your campaign.

Now, we’re partial to the Arch in our metaphor as Nonprofits Decoded just so happens to be based in St. Louis.

The apex of the arch represents your event date. You’ll need to plan your messaging strategy to intensify with your prospective donors as your reach the peak. After the event, you descend the other side of the arch. You decrease your communications intensity until you reach the base and start analyzing all the data collected throughout the process.

Like the Gateway Arch, your messaging arc needs a consistent theme and look throughout the process.  If we look at the Gateway Arch, it has clean lines and a smooth, streamlined look from one side to the other.

Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri

Can you imagine if the arch featured design and construction with paving bricks? What if the engineers designed it with rough edges – do you think it leaves the same visual impression? Of course not.

It’s the same thing with your messaging arc. By keeping your message consistent, you create a streamlined, seamless process for your marketing campaign.

Throughout the campaign, your messaging arc builds a compelling and cohesive case for donor support.

Messaging arcs also build momentum and intensity as they reach the campaign’s apex – typically a fundraising event like an auction.

Comparing this to our Gateway Arch example, we can see the following. The base of the arch is thinner than the apex. We can compare this design effect to the messaging intensity, velocity, and momentum when approaching your campaign.

At the broad base of the arch, your messaging is slower. As you progress up the arc towards the apex, your communications pick up speed, momentum, and frequency until your reach to top point (your event).

After the event, you keep momentum high and steadily decrease until you reach the endpoint a few weeks or days after your event.

During the first half of your journey up the messaging arc, you’ll be promoting your event, enticing prospects to come to the auction or fundraiser. After the event, you’ll follow up with your donors to see what they enjoyed and where you can improve for your next campaign.

Creating a messaging arc

As a practical example, if you’re running a campaign for better senior care, you might set a time frame of a year, from April to the following April.

Gantt Chart for planning your messaging arc
To help you outline your messaging arc, you’ll likely want to create a content calendar or Gantt chart of your nonprofit campaign.

The peak of the arc would be around Christmas when you want to host a fundraiser for seniors living alone during the winter holidays.

Until Christmas, you would run a campaign focusing on hardship stories and the challenges seniors endure living alone without assisted care. Your messaging arc and content educate prospective donors, providing an understanding of the senior’s position while increasing empathy levels, pushing them to donate to your event in December.

After your event wraps up, you spend the rest of the campaign following up with donors. You’ll survey them on the efficacy of your event and their impressions of your campaign.

Throughout the entire years’ worth of content, you need to remain consistent in your message. Carry the consistency through all platforms, including social channels, email campaigns, texts, or any other medium.

Connecting everything

After designing and structuring your messaging arc, it’s time to execute your strategy. The implementation is where the “rubber meets the road,” and you get to test your strategy’s efficacy and results in real-time.

Your content strategy and message need a consistent theme that builds on each previous message. For instance, we could focus on a series of emails, Facebook posts, and tweets with our senior living example.

Search for relevant hashtags or create your own and promote it through your content. Each message in the series should help your donors find the content appealing and compelling.

Hashtag analysis and suggestion tool
Tools like RiteTag allow you to search hashtags for your campaign.

For example, you might create a blog on your website and post it on your Facebook or LinkedIn pages. Promote that content through Twitter, link to the post and a relevant hashtag to get more eyeballs on your tweet and more traffic to your blog.

Release a post every second week for the first four months of the campaign, and make each post build on the previous one.

For example, you might start with; “the Statistics of Seniors Living Alone.” Your second post title could be something like, “How many seniors need financial assistance to live alone.” You increase your posting frequency as you approach the event date in December.

By the time the event day arrives, your donors have all the education and priming their need to donate at your fundraiser. When the event is over, it’s time to analyze your data. Start releasing content thanking your donor base, preparing them for the next campaign.

Adding a messaging arc to your nonprofit

A well-planned and executed messaging arc helps bring results to nonprofits’ campaigns.

Follow the points in this post when creating your strategy, and remember to keep things consistent with your message!