Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE
Develop Your Case for Support
Sometimes development professionals only think about the importance of having a case for support when they are preparing to launch a capital campaign. However, you need a case for support for all your fundraising activities.
The reason for having the case in place before creating any materials—brochure, website, grant proposals, speeches, PowerPoints, DVDs, and more—is that it is crucial to present a unified message and a consistent look and feel in all your fundraising materials.
If the people who write brochures or develop the website or compose fundraising appeal letters 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!
The Content of the Case for Support
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?
Your mission and vision motivate the donor to become involved. A history of success will help donors understand that you can successfully implement the programs you want to fund. Listing staff and board members will help build credibility for your 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 you 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.
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 your 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 you value.
Translating the Case into Fundraising Materials
Remember that the case serves as the source document for all your fundraising materials and that although the message is consistent and uniform, the way it is translated may vary greatly for different audiences.
Before translating the case into written or electronic materials, you’ll want to do a stakeholder analysis and determine what materials will appeal to each constituency. Also various types of organizations will have different looks expected by their constituents. In general, a small human service may turn off donors if these donors feel the materials are too "glitzy" (and are therefore perceived as too expensive). On the other hand a university, major health center, or museum may have donors who expect very sophisticated materials. In any case, your materials should be professionally done and presented in a way that is consistent with your organization's image.