Developing Your Case for SupportFeb 23, 2021
The Importance of the Case
Sometimes development professionals only think about the importance of having a case for support when they are preparing to launch a capital campaign. However, every organization needs a case for support for all of its fundraising activities. The case has been defined by some as "the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support….," (AFP Fundraising Dictionary); ….a clear, compelling statement of all the reasons why anyone should consider making contribution…. (Harold J. Seymour) and "… an internal database …of information that will support the preparation of various documents and publications…" (Henry A Rosso). The case is all of this and more.
Organizations need to develop their case for support first, before designing a brochure, developing a website, preparing grant proposals, developing speeches, PowerPoint presentations, DVDs and any other material used in its fundraising activities. The reason for having the case in place first is that it is crucial to present a unified message and a consistent look and feel in all the organization's fundraising materials. Too many times someone in the organization decides that it needs a brochure, a website, or video and someone heads off to develop that material, while other individuals are preparing grant proposals and fundraising appeal letters, and still others may be out making presentations to groups and individuals. If these people are not a working from the same source document, the case for support, the messages they deliver will be inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory.
The steps to developing a case are:
- Develop the organizational case for support
- Develop individual case statements for various fundraising activities
- Test the preliminary case statements
- Prepare final case statements
- Translate final case statements into fundraising materials.
In other words, development of the materials is the last step, not the first!
What is the Content of the Case?
The case should answer these questions:
- Who is the organization and what does it do? (mission statement)
- Why does the organization exist?
- What is distinctive about the organization?
- What is it the organization plans to accomplish? (vision statement)
- How will the fundraising appeal or campaign help accomplish this mission?
- How can the donor become involved?
- What's in it for the donor?
The case should contain the organization's mission and vision, both of which are important to motivate the donor to become involved. A history which shows the organization's success will help donors understand that the organization has a track record of successfully implementing programs. An outline of the programs and services for which funds are being solicited is important. It is also critical to show donors who the people are that are involved in the organization, both staff and board members. This will help build credibility for the organization. It will also be crucial to demonstrate a compelling need for funds; however the difference between being compelling and looking desperate is a fine line that the case cannot cross. Donors will not support an organization whose case sounds like a desperate appeal for funds to keep the organization afloat. Donors, instead, want to invest in a winning cause, an organization that has support from other sources, and one that shows it is filling a need in the community, not one that stress the organization's needs.
However it is critical to outline the costs of the programs you are trying to fund and provide solid financial information about your sources of funding and how the donors' contributions will help you achieve the goals presented in the case. The case also needs to provide options for donors to become involved. Outright gifts, pledges, gifts in kind, matching gifts, group gifts, named gifts, group gifts, and planned gifts are all options that should be described to for the donor.
Above all, the case needs to present both emotional and rational reasons for the donor to contribute. Emotion usually draws the reader into the case, but before they write out a check, most donors will want to analyze the rational reason to give.
Who Prepares the Case?
Generally, the chief development officer will prepare the case for support, although often a consultant may be brought in to accomplish this task, particularly if the case is for a capital campaign. Sometimes public relations staff may be involved in the final product, especially in preparing the final fundraising materials from the case. Whoever is charged with developing the case, however, must be someone who understands the need for and the uses of the case, has good knowledge of the organization and its constituents, and must understand basic fundraising principles.
The case should always be tested before the final materials are prepared. In the case of a capital campaign, the preliminary case for support is usually tested through the process of the planning (or feasibility) study. If the case is for more general use, other ways to test the case may be by meeting individually with donors to ask their opinions, holding a focus group of donors, or posting the case on a section of the website open only to invited guests whose opinion is valued by the organization. Often the case may need adjustment after it is tested in order to assure that it is compelling to potential donors.
To learn more about developing your case for support, take my course: Tell Your Story Right: Create a Compelling Case for Support. Sign up here