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Prescription for Campaign Fluency Training

The cure for fundraising fluency deficiency

As a public service, Foster Avenue urges development leaders across the nation to inoculate their fundraising campaigns against the dangers of fluency deficiency, a debilitating condition that can lead to campaign anemia and failure to thrive. Fluency deficiency is characterized by fundraisers with a stunted ability to grasp the institution’s campaign message and adapt it with fluidity. Those with the condition may struggle to describe the campaign’s urgency, the relevance of its funding priorities, and how those priorities relate to the giving motivations of individual donors – abilities that are vital to overall campaign health.

Know the symptoms 

Fluency deficiency may present differently for each individual. If any of the following indications are present at your organization, we recommend you seek professional help immediately:

  • Major gift officers who are hesitant to pursue donor relationships energetically, or who return from visits with the dreaded “the donor wants more information” report…
  • Volunteers who say “Yes, we want to help…but we really can’t do anything until we have a brochure and a really good elevator speech…”
  • Deans or medical directors who articulate divisional funding needs that, rather than awakening the interests of change-motivated donors, sound like snoozy budget relief…
  • Annual fund officers whose appeals seem stale and disconnected from current priorities and positioning…
  • Donor relations teams who struggle to convey the compelling mission impact of donors’ investments…
  • C-suiters with little feel for what makes donors tick and how their decision-making can help or hinder philanthropy…
  • Foundation communicators who perceive a lack of support from the institution’s marketing team…
  • Constituents who attend campaign events and walk away wondering what this big deal was all about…

If your organization is symptomatic for fluency deficiency in any of these ways, a relatively painless cure is available…through a prescription for campaign fluency training.

Fluency Training: Intensive Care for Campaigns?

Okay, okay, it may be fun to think of fluency deficiency as a medical condition, but as any campaign veteran can tell you, it’s no joke.

In a campaign, there is no replacement for human-to-human message fluency. Remember: your beautiful case statement isn’t going to raise a dime on its own. Only people do that – people who can speak about their cause with authority and personal passion. Campaigns pivot on major gifts – each of which is its own high-stakes micro-campaign. You must make the value proposition personal, and that requires both a command of the message and the instinct to adapt it to each individual donor.

Such adaptation is a feat your one-size-fits-all campaign brochure could never pull off. Sure, those beautiful pieces are indispensable; they can get your campaign message onto everyone’s coffee table. But getting it into their hearts takes fluency.

Health benefits of fluency training 

Training in campaign fluency can make major gift officers more confident and effective (increasingly indispensable as donor expectations become more demanding, virtual, and time-constrained).

But fluency training also benefits the whole team.

  • Fluent volunteers stop relying on your brochure as a crutch; they start talking from the heart and playing the passionate ambassador role only they can fulfill. 
  • Fluent annual fund, donor relations and events staffers gain insight into how their vehicles can support campaign momentum.
  • Top institution executives grow in their understanding of philanthropy.
  • Program leaders finally begin articulating departmental needs that also align with donor aspirations.
  • Your external relations colleagues become better partners when they realize that your campaign can also help meet their own objectives.

The most important effect of institution-wide fluency? Prospects who embrace your campaign as real, urgent and imperative — because they hear resonating messages from every corner of your organization.

The inevitable disclaimers

Fluency deficiency is a real affliction, but fluency training can bring relief to many sufferers. Side effects may include team cohesion, campaign momentum, and an inflated culture of philanthropy. In isolated cases, the risk of an elevated campaign goal cannot be ruled out. Ask your consultant if fluency training may be right for you.

Team-wide message fluency: it’s not a wonder drug, but it is powerful medicine for campaign wellness.

Effective May 1, 2023 — Snavely Associates is now named Foster Avenue. We have updated this post accordingly.

Doug Diefenbach | Vice President, Strategy & Brand

Before becoming Foster Avenue’s main message strategist and editorial lead, Doug spent more than 35 years helping a wide range of major institutions articulate and exceed their goals for strategic alignment, brand visibility, constituent engagement, and philanthropic revenue. Doug has led both campaign planning and communications in both consultant and staff executive roles. (Fun fact: Doug founded, led, and for years performed at an improv comedy theater in Chicago — an affliction that still surfaces from time to time.)

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