Using your brand to shape your email fundraising messages: Q&A with Vanessa Chase Lockshin

Sep 11, 2023

Do you use your nonprofit organization’s key messages to inform your fundraising communications and email campaigns? How can you leverage your brand narrative to strengthen your email content?

Your parent brand and fundraising messaging should work together, but at too many nonprofit organizations, they exist in silos. Worse, at some nonprofits, branding is still regarded with skepticism or resentment. This is a missed opportunity because, when used correctly, your brand can be an asset, a guide and support for all of your organization’s communications. Today, Vanessa Chase Lockshin is here to help you leverage your brand messaging when crafting email fundraising messages.

Expert advice on aligning your nonprofit’s email campaigns with your brand

Vanessa Chase Lockshin, email fundraising consultant at The Storytelling Nonprofit

Vanessa is an email fundraising consultant at her company, The Storytelling Nonprofit. We’ve known each other for years, but I recently noticed her enthusiasm for brand narratives (or brand-level key messages). I asked Vanessa if she would answer a few questions about using a brand to shape email fundraising, and here are her answers:

Q1: How does a documented brand messaging platform help with fundraising generally? With email communications or campaigns specifically?

Generally, having a brand messaging platform is great because it will help an organization achieve consistency in its fundraising messaging. Organizations often underestimate the power of fundraising messaging consistency and that tends to become a real issue over time. This problem lends itself to fundraising materials that seem like they are from different organizations because they lack that clear throughline of messaging. 

Being able to have a central brand messaging platform that communicates who you are, what you’re about, your values, your programs, and all those important things can help take a lot of the guesswork out of figuring out what the organization needs to say in parts of fundraising appeals.

With email communications and campaigns more specifically, they’re helpful because again, consistency is so vital to communications and fundraising. Having some key points that you can consistently make about your organization that are like punchy one-liners or just really good bits of copy ultimately makes your writing more effective and easier. 

Q2: What are some of the first steps you would take to put a new nonprofit client’s key messages or brand narrative to use? How do you use brand narratives in planning or setting up email campaigns?

The first step I take to put a new key message/brand narrative to use is to start thinking strategically about the larger goals the organization has for fundraising. The purpose of this as a first step is to be aligned with the bigger picture so that the organization gets a bigger return on investment by connecting with more people, connecting with the right people, and starting to build narrative momentum for the right things. Usually, that looks like having conversations amongst stakeholders about what their fundraising priorities are and what fundraising tactics will be deployed. From there, you can build strategy and channel-appropriate plans based on those goals. 

In terms of email, there’s so much I do with a brand narrative for this. The biggest thing I do is think about campaigns when we’re out asking for money usually multiple times over the course of days or weeks. I want to be intentional about the central message that ties all of those emails together. And that central message will likely come directly from the brand messaging platform. 

Then what we also need to do is tee up that messaging leading into the campaign. And that looks like reverse engineering emails back from the campaign and thinking about what to say in those educational and cultivation emails.

Q3: How do you use a brand narrative to shape ongoing email communications?

One of the hallmarks of great email programs is that they have a degree of messaging consistency and clarity that is almost like magic. There’s just something so sharp and crisp about it when it’s executed well. To me that comes from intentional planning based on the brand narrative.

I explain this to clients as medium-term vision and short-term planning. This means looking out three to maybe six months and thinking about what we have on the horizon in terms of goals for the email program campaigns. I use the question “What are we working towards?” to help unearth these priorities and goals. Then the short-term plan is what are we going to say in specific emails to build the narrative.

I always think about narrative and emails as kind of being like beads on a necklace. We want them all to work together at the end of the day to have made this cohesive, beautiful necklace instead of something hodge-podge. And by thinking this way, medium-term vision and short-term planning, we can strategically pick the beads (or the emails in our case) that we’re going to put on that necklace to build that final piece.

Q4: How else does a defined narrative and messaging platform benefit you as a content writer? How does it benefit your nonprofit clients?

Oh my gosh, there are so many ways this benefits me as a writer! As a copywriter, it makes my job so much easier because I have a very clear, consistent idea of how the organization wants to talk about themselves. The more the whole organization is on the same page about this and has that defined narrative and messaging platform, the easier it is for contractors, consultants, and staff to come in and take those things and develop them into channel-specific communications.

Additionally, as a writer, it just brings a high degree of clarity into my work that makes writing easier. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write for a client and feeling like I actually don’t know how they would position this or I’m not sure how what they think about this aspect of the issue or what their opinion is on this.

In terms of how it can benefit clients, I mean, there are just so many benefits to clients of this. The most important one in my opinion is building the identity of the organization. One of my clients, Cally Wesson (former CEO of Variety BC) captured it best when she shared with me that “while the financial results that we’ve achieved from email fundraising were impressive, the everlasting result had been that our supporters have never had such a clear understanding of our mission.”

At the end of the day, this is what so many non-profits are seeking and the ripple effect of this kind of work is really incredible. 

Do you need help with using your nonprofit’s brand to shape your email fundraising messages?

Learn more about Vanessa and how she can help your nonprofit tell compelling fundraising stories to engage online communities and reach fundraising goals. Visit: thestorytellingnonprofit.com.

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