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How to Create a Compelling Fundraising Campaign Theme

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Published December 9, 2016 Reading Time: 5 minutes

A fundraising campaign without a strong theme is like a protest without a slogan. There’s no clear campaign message to rally behind.

To really make a difference at a protest, you not only need to gather people at the same place and at the same time, you also need them to engage. If you’re lacking a communication strategy, it becomes much harder for people to take on your mission and march with a sense of ownership around a shared goal.

The same applies to online fundraising campaigns. A communication strategy and overarching theme can be the differences between thousands of dollars raised. That’s because you’re working in a digital space, where there’s no ambiance or décor to fuel fundraising energy for donors like there would be at a physical event.

Online, a shared sense of purpose must be carefully crafted, and a strong theme is the tool to do it. The following tips outline how to establish your theme and provide examples to help you get started.

An Effective Fundraising Campaign Theme

To create a theme that engages your target audience, it needs to include certain elements. To garner as much support as possible, make sure your campaign theme is:

  • Action-oriented: to inspire supporters to take action
  • Goal-oriented: to communicate exactly what you want to accomplish and why it matters
  • Original: to stand out from other nonprofit campaigns
  • Draws curiosity: to captivate people’s interest in learning more about your campaign
  • Short and sharable: to avoid cliche industry jargon and can be used by any and all supporters, regardless of how and why they feel connected to your cause
  • On brand: to reflect the personality of your brand and what you stand for

How to Get Started

To help ensure a successful campaign, during the initial stages of your planning, schedule an overarching theme brainstorm with the campaign’s key stakeholders.

To kickoff the brainstorm, review your organization’s fundraising goals for the year. If you haven’t yet, set a reasonable monetary fundraising goal for this specific initiative.

Next, think about this fundraising campaign goal in terms of what it can achieve for an existing or new program for your organization. Then, think about that larger program goal in terms of giving levels. How can your overall programmatic goal be broken up into smaller elements that donors can relate to? Create varying giving levels and illustrate the resulting impact in order to connect donors to your work and prompt them to act.

By considering your overall monetary campaign goal and giving levels, you can potentially incorporate those numbers into your theme or use them to inform whether a theme based on an overall campaign goal is realistic.

Finally, brainstorm mission-driven words and phrases that speak to what you’re trying to achieve through this fundraising campaign.

Pro Tip
Once you’ve narrowed your potential themes to two or three, complete research to ensure each theme is not being used by another organization before you make your final decision. Don’t forget to search for the hashtag on Twitter.

Examples of Successful Fundraising Campaign Themes

Whether you’re looking to create a themed campaign strategy for the first time, or just want to renew your inspiration, it can be helpful to look to others for examples. The following online fundraising campaigns illustrate what it takes to design a theme that inspires action.

charity: water | #NothingisCrazy

Builds wells to provide clean water around the world.

This was charity: water’s campaign theme for their 2015 annual September campaign. “Nothing is Crazy” is a brilliant theme because it has a double meaning. The first refers to the idea that doing nothing to help provide clean water around the world is “crazy,” and the second refers to charity: water’s push to encourage fundraisers to do anything and everything—from lemonade stands to biking across the United States—to fundraise for the cause.

Athletes 4 Cancer | #NoWaitlist

Helps young adult cancer survivors rebuild their lives after cancer through outdoor adventure programs.

Athletes 4 Cancer hosts North America’s largest amateur kiteboarding festival each year, called Kiteboard 4 Cancer. This year’s theme was #NoWaitlist, which rallied fundraisers around the shared goal of raising enough funds to send every one of the 112 young cancer survivors on the organization’s waitlist to their Camp Koru Survivorship Program.

Knowing the cost of sending one survivor to camp ($1,500) and how much was raised at the previous year’s event, Athletes 4 Cancer determined that fundraising to zero out the waitlist was a realistic funding goal and a strong theme to galvanize peer-to-peer fundraisers.

John Wayne Cancer Foundation | #ShowYourGrit

Funds programs that improve cancer patients’ outcomes and save lives through research, education, awareness, and support.

From John Wayne’s birthday on May 26 until Father’s Day, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation’s theme #ShowYourGrit spoke to the essence and character of John Wayne. The theme encouraged supporters to raise funds and awareness on social by honoring “those who have shown courage, strength, and grit in the face of cancer.”

Action Against Hunger | #Team45

Saves the lives of malnourished people around the globe through nutrition, food security, livelihood, emergency response, and sanitation solutions and programs.

The campaign theme #Team45 currently refers to the 45 days and $45 it takes to restore a malnourished child to health through nutrient dense foods. Action Against Hunger used “45” as their theme to create a strong narrative around the problem and solution.

How to Implement Your Theme

Tie Impact Levels to Your Theme

Create impact levels that tie back to the theme and goal of the campaign. This will allow you to turn your concept into a tangible contribution that any donor can make to support your campaign. It will help donors feel like they can help your organization achieve the greater goal.

Brand Your Campaign

Develop a campaign logo and incorporate your hashtag into all of your visuals, materials, and communications. This will help build brand awareness and help your campaign feel focused and unified to donors, which builds trust.

Here’s an example of how Athletes 4 Cancer tied the “#NoWaitlist” theme into their branded campaign visuals. The “countdown” graphic below was continually updated with the number of cancer survivors left on the Camp Koru waitlist, which motivated fundraisers as they watched the number drop.

Image of a countdown

Build Your Narrative

Think about how to explain your theme succinctly to your supporters. How will you tell the story, and how can you tell it creatively? Invest in visuals and tools such as infographics, videos, and microsites. These are the most compelling ways to get your point across quickly.

A theme is critical to rally supporters around your fundraising campaign goal. It helps fundraisers and donors feel like they’re a part of your work and something bigger than themselves. Take steps to use this powerful motivator and you can raise more funds and awareness for your cause.


Noelle Smith is an account strategist at CauseMic, Classy’s first Certified Strategic Partner in the nation. CauseMic has raised more than $6 million for their nonprofit clients on the Classy platform. Follow the CauseMic Crew on Twitter at @Cause_Mic.

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