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How the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Communities Program partnered with Prosper Strategies to transform their messaging, grow their donor base and exceed their fundraising goals.

The Challenge

McCormick Foundation Communities Program grantee organization Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The McCormick Foundation Communities Program, the fundraising arm of the Foundation, partnered with Prosper Strategies beginning in early 2018 to evolve their messaging and take a more innovative approach to their annual end-of-year fundraising campaign.

When our work together began, the Communities Program faced two key challenges. First, they had shifted their grantmaking approach to be strengths-based with a racial equity lens, but all their donor communications were very much needs-based. Second, the Foundation had heightened its connection to only Chicago-based fundraising partners, and needed to completely redefine their annual fundraising program to operate independently and achieve an aggressive $1M+ annual fundraising goal.

Prosper Strategies put our 4-D Process to work to address these key challenges, build a new messaging platform for the Communities Program, and develop and implement a highly successful end-of-year fundraising campaign.


We began our work with a Discover phase intended to help us determine what messaging would resonate most with current donors, and align best with the Communities Program’s grantmaking approach.

Our Discover phase included an organization assessment focused on a review of current Communities Program marketing and communications, an ecosystem assessment focused on comparing the McCormick Foundation’s messaging to other similar philanthropic organizations, and a stakeholder assessment that included stakeholder interviews, donor focus groups and a donor survey. Research revealed that despite fears to the contrary, donors were receptive to strengths-based messaging centered around the Foundation’s focus on racial equity.



Armed with insights from the Discover phase, we made the recommendation to build a new messaging platform for the Communities Program focused on the idea of “opportunity for all.”

This recommendation led to the development of a new positioning statement, stakeholder profiles and key messages that moved the Communities Program toward more overt messaging about racial equity. We also developed a narrative arc to show how the directness of racial equity messaging could be dialed up over time.



We then moved onto the Drive phase of our process, where we developed a campaign concept for the Communities Program’s end-of-year fundraising campaign to bring this new messaging to life. The campaign concept focused on stories of opportunities experienced by beneficiaries of the services of several of the Foundation’s grantees: The Greater Chicago Food Depository, Beyond the Ball, Teamwork Englewood and Enlace. Engaging the people served by those organizations in telling their own stories was critical, especially given the McCormick Foundation’s new grantmaking approach also emphasizes the importance of community voice. We gathered their stories through two days of interviews, photo shoots, and video shoots with an Emmy Award-winning videographer, which would allow us to weave their narratives through all campaign touchpoints.

Throughout this process, we made it a top priority to seek and and incorporate input from a variety of stakeholders. We presented various iterations of our campaign concept and plan to Communities Program team members, communications team members, the McCormick Foundation’s C-Suite, grantee organizations, their beneficiaries and donors, and incorporated their feedback to strengthen our final plans. Intentions and outcomes were shared with these groups at various points along the way to ensure that all voices had been heard.



Finally, we entered into the Deliver phase of our process, where we created a plan that detailed all of the strategies and tactics (direct mail, email marketing, lead generation, social media, social media advertisements, etc.) needed to meet the McCormick Foundation’s goals for the 2018 end-of-year fundraising campaign. Our strategy included a detailed description of each tactic with content direction, timing, budget, design dates and more, as well as a calendar to keep everyone on the same page and moving forward through the campaign.

With the McCormick Foundation’s leadership team and other key stakeholders on board with our approach, Prosper Strategies began implementing our plan in partnership with the Communities Program team and development and communications staff.

Our implementation responsibilities included everything from writing and designing direct mail pieces, to developing and managing social media and Google ads, to overseeing the creation of videos and grantee stories for the McCormick Foundation blog.



To monitor campaign progress, we created a detailed key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard with both benchmarks from the previous year’s campaign and goals for the current year’s campaign. We used this dashboard to track weekly metrics across all tactics so we could monitor in real time and make shifts as needed based on results.

Total fundraising revenue grew 31% between 2017 and 2018, and Giving Tuesday donations grew 267% during the same time period. Additionally, a small scale new donor acquisition effort planned as part of this campaign resulted in the acquisition of over 1,100 new donor leads.

Our Discover phase indicated that a move toward racial equity messaging could be an effective way to inspire donor support, and this hypothesis has been proven true. 2018’s strengths-based campaign nods to racial equity more than any previous communications from the Communities Program, and is the best-performing independent end-of-year fundraising campaign in the McCormick Foundation’s history.

31% increase

Growth in total fundraising revenue between 2017 and 2018.

  • Giving Tuesday Revenue

Growth in funds raised on Giving Tuesday between 2017 and 2018.


 New donor leads generated during 2018 campaign.

Could Your Organization Benefit from Similar Results?

Contact us to tell us about your needs and learn how a partnership with Prosper Strategies can help your organization achieve its goals.