Making Your Case

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Right up front, a superb case communicates to the donor why funds are urgently needed and why philanthropic support makes sense. That must occur on the first page simply because many people will only read that page and possibly the last page.

A case statement obviously shares your mission, but that is secondary to sharing the vision of the campaign. Placing the mission in a sidebar often serves well. We often write a short (5 pages) and a long version (ten pages) of the case, but recently I haven’t seen much need for the longer version.

Also, having a short 3-5 minute video of the case is pretty standard now, because your social media platforms demand it, plus it must be well designed by a graphic designer who can make it look very good by including the right set of stellar pictures. This is not the time to scrimp.

Branded

Before I get ahead of myself, let me also say upfront that successful campaigns have a brand, too. It’s not enough to write a case for support. Capital campaigns that perform at the highest level are branded because campaign leaders consider what the best brand would be for the campaign. They undertook the careful work of developing a campaign brand promise and built all the campaign materials around communicating that promise—from the theme to the talking points, case statement, brochure, and microsite. So I ask you, what is the promise you are communicating in your case?

Voice

The case must be written to the donor as if the donor was standing in front of you, and you were speaking directly to him or her. We call this the “donor’s voice,” as contrasted with an “institutional voice,” or a voice narrating client stories. The case can include aspects of the latter in a minor way, but should not disrupt the conversation the document seeks to have with the donor.

Business

Some cases are backed up by strategic, project, or business plans, but those sorts of documents are primarily internal to the organization unless the donor wants that level of detail. These internal documents embolden leadership to articulate in writing the fundamental reasons underlying the appeal for funds. How is the campaign going to benefit the community? How is it going to “save or change lives”? What new programs, facilities or endowment will be established to further the organization’s mission? The internal documents may also contain other information critical to the organization’s work — the mission, goals and objectives, programs and services, staffing, governing board, facilities, and how funds are allocated. Material for grant proposals and other campaign materials are often drawn from these documents.

Great Aspects

In contrast, a great case statement is written to be read by the public and potential donors. It tells the indispensable story of your nonprofit and the community it serves, and directly states the case for special capital or reserve or endowed revenues. Your case may be presented as a brochure, glossy portfolios, a speech, or even in letters. Personal testimony should be included but only by the expert leaders of your nonprofit, or those close to them in expertise. The case is not a research document whereby quotes from Einstein or lists of statistics are given. Less is more with a great case.

Some Recommendations:

  • State the impact of meeting the campaign goal: we will have expanded services or new facilities, etc.
  • State who will benefit from the donor’s gift.
  • Boast of the organization’s strengths
  • State how the potential donor can make a donation
  • Make clear the donor’s reward: lavish recognition, naming opportunities.You  made  something happen in the world that was urgently needed. Bravo.
  • Post your case on your web site and at social media.

Case statements should be prepared by fundraising counsel in concert with the organization’s director working with a committee of the governing board. Drafts of the case are usually reviewed and modified by the Development Committee and then recommended as is to the governing board before they are accepted or sent back for revisions. However, there should be only one writer. Committees do not write; they give feedback, reject, or approve.

Lastly, remember please that the case is just a tool and should take a back seat to having a terrific meeting with the donor. Many organizations waste way too much precious time in crafting the case, when that time should be spent on donor research and meetings. If the case isn’t complete yet but the donor wants to meet, hands down set up the meeting and bring what you have. Donor engagement and securing lead gifts outplay everything.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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