Tom Talks Activation: Firing up fundraising campaign brands

We asked our very own Tom Osborne, VP of Creative, to talk about the importance of Activation – and how Parisleaf’s creative approach articulates the campaign brands we build for our partners.

What first drew you to Parisleaf?

When I found Parisleaf, I was very intrigued. I remember reading, “We’re a purpose-driven company that works with cause-based organizations that are doing good in the world.” It spoke to me. Now, it’s gratifying to do that work every day.

What is Activation when it comes to branding a fundraising campaign?

For me, Activation is another word for production. In the campaign fundraising world, Quiet Phase activation speaks to high-net-worth individuals who can make a big difference early in a campaign. The reach is smaller, but the impact is higher.

Then there’s the Public Phase. That’s on a broader scale, with smaller donations along the way. But both are similar because they inspire people to contribute to a cause. Activation is a production-oriented pursuit to motivate people to invest in something bigger: being involved and making a difference in the world.

What’s the goal of activating a campaign brand?

Generating excitement is what the goal of activation is all about. It’s to inform and engage. How do we give people information, and then how do we give them a feeling, an emotion that makes them interested and excited about a cause? Activation is tangible. It brings the campaign brand to life.

Generating excitement is what the goal of activation is all about. It’s to inform and engage.

What is the difference between the Quiet and Public Phases of a capital campaign?

The Quiet Phase is more than getting an organization internally prepared for a bigger public launch. It’s giving them the materials they need to be confident speaking with people who can make a difference early on – the campaign’s early adopters and influencers. By the time we reach the Public Phase, we want to be at 60–80% of the fundraising goal because we know that 95% of the funding will come from less than 5% of donors. The Quiet Phase is about creating momentum for the public launch of the campaign.

In the Public Phase, we appeal to everyone else who can give their time or donate to the campaign and make a difference for the cause we’re advocating.

How does Parisleaf prepare for Activation in a public launch?

Strategically, it depends on context. If it’s a higher education institution, we may take a nationwide or worldwide approach to strategy. If it’s a healthcare partner, our focus may be more of a regional effort.

Also, we focus on a timeline and start preparing for it months ahead so we can get multiple parties working months in advance. We work with our partners to look at the timeframe together and prioritize the activation pieces for whatever is going on – an annual event, gala, or any major event or milestone. We plan very early in the process to prepare for a range of media, from broadcast and video assets and digital marketing to direct mail campaigns or outdoor billboards.

How do you protect the integrity of the campaign brand in the creative process?

The Case for Support is a crucial piece of Activation. Parisleaf thinks of it as the nucleus of everything we create. It is the source of truth that we can return to and helps us tell more of the campaign story, from purpose to vision.

Every piece we create, from a pocket guide to a microsite, is a remix of the Case for Support. When I say remix, while the audience for each piece may differ, every piece should point back to aspects of the Case for Support to tell the campaign story. I look at the Case for Support as the touchstone for anything that can be derived from it.

We talk about “Acorn to Oak,” meaning the smallest piece can lead to the largest impact. We’re trying to get someone to say “Tell me more.”

What are effective ways to kick off Activation and create buzz?

In the early stages, conversation starters are very important. We talk about “Acorn to Oak,” meaning the smallest piece can lead to the largest impact. We’re trying to get someone to say “Tell me more.” Something as small as a lapel pin or pocket guide can be an entry point. If you’re at an event and you’re wearing a lapel pin and someone sees it and asks about it, that is an entry point to a tell-me-more moment. Those pieces present an opening to talk about the campaign, its goals, and priorities.

For example, for DU’s The Denver Difference campaign, we designed a pair of Converse high-tops using the campaign’s graphics and colors. That’s an acorn that invites people into a conversation. Those little pieces add up and are important.

Personally, what do you enjoy most about the creative Activation stage?

I enjoy seeing a campaign come to life. We did a pop-up card and board book for Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. Those are exciting examples of using the Case for Support as a guide.

The pop-up card functioned as an invitation to join the campaign or a thank-you card. I never dreamed that we would be doing a customized pop-up card. But we went back to our Brand Foundation work (Brand Guide and Case for Support), and we said this is how we’re going to do it, these are all the elements that we’re going to include. I think going into Activation without ever doing the Foundation work is a much more difficult approach. You don’t have the guideposts to know if your creative is strategic and on track.

What makes Parisleaf stand out as a fundraising brand agency specializing in this work?

We specialize in fundraising campaign branding, and we’re unique in the sense that not many agencies do. Some do campaign work because they are sought out for branding in general, not because they specialize in comprehensive campaign branding.

That’s one of the things that makes Parisleaf different. But there’s more to it. Our approach is intentional. We do Discovery and immersion up front and then focus on a messaging platform before we do any design. I think it’s a really wise approach. The process helps build our partners’ trust, and it differentiates us. We borrowed concepts from Michael Johnson’s book, Branding in Five and a Half Steps. But I think we do it in a way that’s unique to the space that we operate in.

There’s a method to our madness. 🙂

With gratitude: Thanks to Kym Russell (author), Tom Osborne (interviewee), and Ro Sullivan (designer) for help with this article. 

Kym Russell

Kym Russell

Senior Copywriter
Kym is an award-winning copywriter, communicator, creative, and brand-builder in PR, advertising, and marketing. She serves as a throughline for most partnerships at Parisleaf as a driver in brand and creative strategy. She has worked with regional and national agencies such as Ogilvy Worldwide and Doyle Dane Bernbach. Kym started her career at the ABC News Bureau in DC and soon found her niche in copywriting. Kym is also in a marching band – tambourine – a lot harder to play than one would think.