University Fundraising Materials
- Creative Director
- Graphic design
- Archival research
- Determining voice and tone
- Aerial photography
What Was the Challenge?
University Advancement does the important work of building relationships between Texas State and the Bobcat community: alumni, families, media, local businesses…anyone who interacts with the university. Donors are one of their key audiences. However, the department did not have one unified set of marketing material for donors.
The Advancement team wanted a stronger way to help potential donors understand the university’s current needs and strengths. They were inspired by our annual admissions viewbook and related pieces, which use a bold marketing style, and they asked us to create a communication system that would behave in a similar way.
How We Got It Done
We started with a consultation: a meeting for listening closely to Advancement leadership and asking clarifying questions to get at the heart of the problem. This discovery phase was especially important, as it helped us understand the delicate, complex donor relationship.
Together, we conducted an audit of all the existing materials that Advancement was using to illustrate their pitch during donor meetings; these were primarily marketing documents that had originally been created for a different purpose (such as copies of the McCoy College of Business annual report, or program brochures). Each gift officer had, over time, compiled their own “deck of cards” to play with — now, it was time to create a standard, purposeful system.
We talked with each gift officer to understand their process: How did a normal conversation with a donor go? What kind of topics did they talk about, and at what level of formality? From these client interviews, we learned that many alumni-donors experienced a big gap in communication with the university — they were left wondering why Texas State hadn’t reached out to them earlier.
Armed with this knowledge, we decided that our creative strategy would highlight “then and now,” drawing these Texas State friends back into the community through an emotional connection between the university as they knew it and how it is today.
Strategy and Research
We planned to use a folder design, which would hold informational inserts and a fold-out “map” (highlighting certain developments on campus); we also planned blank notecards that the gift officers could use to send thank-you notes or follow-up info after their initial donor meetings.
The papers inside the folder would include four standard inserts — explaining who today’s students and new graduates are, giving an overview of current enrollment numbers, describing the university’s commitment to research, and finally explaining the giving process and priorities. Then, the gift officers would customize each folder by adding a decade-specific insert aligned with alumni’s graduation years, from the 1960s through the 2000s and today. As a bonus, this modular design can grow and change with Advancement as needed.
After deciding on the basic form and strategy of folder plus inserts, the designer and writer worked mostly independently, on parallel tracks, coming together in regular work sessions to update each other on their progress. Both of them relied on the University Archives’ excellent digitization of the Pedagog, the student yearbook, along with the expertise of archivist Kris Toma.
As a guiding principle for this historical research, we looked for overarching patterns: things that were consistent enough that we could find comparison photos for every decade from 1960 onwards. We found four areas to focus on:
This framework helped us narrow down the options for representing school pride, self-expression and daily life on campus over the last sixty years. The visuals would be a bridge to bring alumni back to campus, even if only through photographs.
In addition to the experiential elements, we also gathered data-driven info for each decade, including enrollment numbers, tuition and large-scale academic news (such as growing from two colleges to ten). Finally, we compiled a timeline of several dozen notable events from the university’s history.
Once we had all our raw materials — archival photos and a wealth of knowledge about Texas State traditions and statistics — it was time to put everything together.
Designing a tactile, three-dimensional product like a folder takes extra thought. Open a standard folder a little too sharply and all the papers fly out across the table… To avoid this, we settled on a three-panel folder where the inserted papers would stay secure within a middle pocket, instead of sliding out when the outer panels swung open. (This would also give us more real estate for photos and messaging.) We planned out where a business-card slot could go without disrupting the graphics, and how the panels needed to be arranged to fold out in the right order.
We came up with three concepts for the folder, which the Advancement team reviewed. They liked one version best, but wanted to incorporate elements of another, so the designer worked on reconfiguring those pieces into one product.
The “map” — a folded poster with campus photos on one side and a timeline on the other — came out of a common question asked of Advancement staff: “Is my dorm still there?” Since the university has grown dramatically over its history, we tried to make the alumni’s versions of Texas State recognizable within all that change. Our photographers used a drone camera to take nine aerial photos of campus, showing key buildings labeled with their opening dates.
The writing in this project needed to be succinct, direct and nostalgia-laden. As with the photography, the words needed to contextualize the changes at Texas State, and show how our alumni fit into the bigger story of where we’re going.
We established a new, consistent voice for Advancement: fact-based, highly positive, bold and unapologetic. Taken together, the materials combine fun, feel-good stories with the real sense of need that today’s students face — and insight into how donations can make a huge impact.
Rather than many voices speaking from different points in the past, we wrote in one voice speaking from now, remembering a shared history. We emphasized that although Texas State has had several names, we are still one school, still the same at our heart.
The gift officers tell us that these new materials ease their interactions with donors and give them a solid foundation for their conversations. The materials are a long-awaited tool in their toolkit for sustaining the university. During one review meeting, the Advancement team actually applauded!