The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and the Heinz Foundation

Helping intersectional audiences support veterans


  • Campaign strategy
  • Research and insights
  • Integrated campaigns
  • Targeting and distribution
  • Video production
  • Visual and web design

The need

Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), with grant support from The Heinz Foundation, wanted to mobilize everyday Americans to care about the issues that affect veterans and demand support from their lawmakers and politicians. In particular, they wanted to target audiences who don’t have a personal affiliation with the military and are disengaged from the issue.

IMVF’s work focuses on drafting veteran policy recommendations. They came to NationSwell to re-imagine those complex policies as an integrated campaign that would engage untapped audiences to:

  • See the intersectionality of veterans issues
  • Mobilize in support of veterans
  • Set a new standard of creativity and design in the veterans and policy space
  • Give IVMF valuable audience insights related to the messaging and visuals that resonate with these new audiences

The action

We soon learned that since the end of the military draft in the U.S., the divide between the veteran and civilian communities in America has expanded. Military recruitment is dominant in several communities and very rare in others.

Many Americans have no connection to the military, which has created a lack of urgency around veterans’ issues, and the community’s needs for support.

Our campaign’s success would rely on convincing our target audiences – civilians with no military connections – that supporting veterans is in the best interest of both the veterans and the civilians.

We focused on finding issue-intersectionality: What does our target audience already care about? Where do veterans’ issues intersect with that?

Our campaign, which ran on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, targeted four personas and customized messaging and visual systems for each:

  • Americans who love their local communities/hometown
  • Community Activists
  • Business Leaders
  • Military-Connected (but non-veteran)

Our messaging strategy focused on “happy pathways”, in which each persona learned how veterans improve the outcomes of the things they care about, like community health and wellbeing, improved healthcare outcomes, closing opportunity divides, or supporting local businesses.

Over the next year, we launched a highly targeted, integrated social campaign.  The campaign featured a mix of sharable social cards, GIFs, motion graphics content, and videos featuring veterans.

Each piece of content was A/B Tested with an A (head) and B (heart) version.  We tested, tested, and tested. We went back and refined our CTAs in response. We learned a lot about these untapped audiences and mobilized them to engage in the conversation on social, join IVMF’s e-mail list, and welcome them to the IVMF ecosystem so they can be part of future communication strategies.

The impact

Award winning

2022 The Webby’s Anthem Awards Silver Award for Campaign – Non-Profit

Award winning

2021 W3 Gold Award Winner for General Video

4.1 million+

Since the campaign’s launch, we generated 4.1 million impressions and expanded awareness of veterans issues to new digital audiences.

1.2 million+

The campaign’s three videos, produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, have 1.2 million plays – and counting.

A/B Testing

A/B testing mobilized new audiences in service of veterans-audiences that need to learn how veterans issues intersect with the issues they (already) care about.

Let’s work together
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