Emory Report
September 20, 2004
Volume 57, Number 05


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September 20 , 2004
Building a distinctive campaign for Emory

By Johnnie Ray

PBS commentator and journalist Bill Moyers said in a recent commencement speech at another university, "We owe this institution to the vision, sweat and the gift of strangers. It is the ethic of obligation--to live and help live--which inspires the old to build trees under which they will never sit, and men and women to build universities for children who are not their own."

In some form, this lovely sentiment needs to be at the foundation of the way plan and talk about our upcoming campaign. There is a certain joy and deep sense of satisfaction present when a benefactor makes a well-conceived and creative philanthropic choice. As much as it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge and sensitively thank Emory's donors, it is surprising how many times donors actually thank us for the opportunity to make a difference--it means that much to them.

That is the reason why it is so critically important, as we move toward our campaign, that we be extremely sensitive in crafting the language that will describe our intent. Potential benefactors are not motivated by loosely evaluated and loosely connected laundry lists of what we "need"; rather they are inspired by what we can achieve for society. And they are quite turned off if the campaign language sounds like a competition, an attempt to simply mitigate perceived competitive shortcomings, or a crass grab for money.

I point these things out because Emory is among the very last, if not the last, of the really high-profile research universities to commit to a comprehensive campaign of more than a billion dollars. In fact, large-scale campaigns have become omnipresent in our industry, so much so that debate is beginning to arise as to whether this is any longer the best model for raising significant private support. There is no question that donors and the public generally are "on to" the campaign model and, frankly, may be growing a bit weary of the proliferation and frequency of campaigns. Thus, our success at Emory, in my view, will lie in how we distinguish our campaign from others in very real ways. We must communicate effectively that campaigns are about far more than raising money.

While we will want to establish a very ambitious aggregate goal for our campaign, one clear differentiation would be for us to emphasize the "for what" over the "how much." Raising money and achieving results can be quite distinct missions. In the language of campaigns generally, and in the way campaigns are reported in the press, the tendency is to talk more about amounts than about results.

I would like for Emory's campaign to reflect a shift in that mindset to where we discuss less the amount of money we raise, and more about our ability to contribute institution-sustaining results that will transform into societal benefits. In this vein, I am hoping that the preponderance of our campaign will be focused on building organizational capacity and demonstrating how that capacity extends our ability to serve our students and the larger world. If our constituencies understand the broad value and impact Emory has on their lives, then we will be in a good position to seek support, both financially and in advocacy.

Our campaign can actually become the means rather than the end. By taking a longer, more dispassionate view of the campaign phenomenon, we will see that the ability of this model to raise funds, though effective, pales in comparison with its potential to be a catalyst for organizational change because it will force us to develop a sustained focus on vision and values, claim or reclaim or institution-wide voice, and speak to our best and highest aspirations.

The campaign planning and deliberation we undertake, and the language and visual symbols that flow from them, will give new meaning to our work here. And if we properly place these in a context and continuum that a wide audience can understand, we will successfully differentiate our campaign and properly shape the perceptions of the audiences we wish to reach.

(Editor's note: This is the first in a regular series of columns to be offered by Johnnie Ray, senior vice president for Development and University Relations, about the upcoming campaign and related matters about marketing, communications and alumni relations. )