Mizzou's message to donors falls short


Mizzou alumni and friends finally got an email about last week's tumult late Friday afternoon. Yes, it's hard to get everyone at a university to agree on a message. But friends, this was too long of a gap in communicating with key constituents. Donors are partners in a university's success, not afterthoughts. 

Read the email here. The need to stand together in tough times comes through loud and clear. The letter also references advice from an alum: don't waste this crisis.

"We have a crisis but also an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and be a much stronger institution," Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Tom Hiles and Mizzou Alumni Association Executive Director Todd McCubbin said as co-signers. That's true and hopeful.

One big thing missing from the letter: any mention of the campaign the university announced in October, Mizzou: Our Time to Lead. The campaign goal is $1.3 billion by 2020. Donors already have contributed $665 million. But will they continue to give now that there is no "permanent" university or campus leadership in place? 

"They are in uncharted territory for a mega-campaign," one fundraising executive told me.

Now more than ever Mizzou Advancement professionals need to stay on-message. Hiles and McCubbin chose to communicate as MU Advancement. In  my book, MU Advancement is out the window as an external brand during a campaign. The two external brands now are the Mizzou Alumni Association and the campaign brand, Mizzou: Our Time to Lead.  Two letters would have served the brands better. A letter signed by the campaign volunteer leaders and HIles would have been more reassuring. The alumni association leadership sent a letter earlier in the week and I saw no need for more communication from the group last week. 

A campaign brand must be used consistently when communicating with donors.  Do not abandon ship in a crisis. Continue to thank donors every time you communicate with them. Remind them of the impact of their giving by telling stories of student success.  

The Missouri School of Journalism provides a good example. This morning I received the second email from Journalism School Dean David Kurpius since the crisis hit. This paragraph is right-on:

"As a donor to the School of Journalism, you play an important part in our students' success. Because of your investment, our students are taught by extraordinary faculty while working in nine real-world newsrooms and communication agencies - an incomparable experience in journalism education. I am grateful for your generosity."

Dean Kurpius took the first steps in communicating--getting out and talking with people. Then he reported on what he saw. His colleagues in Mizzou's other school and colleges would be wise to follow his lead. Get out and experience firsthand how your students are handling the crisis. I'm sure you will find many bright spots. Let your donors know you are focused, grateful, and moving forward.