I have fundraised with some fabulous organizations that do some amazing stuff, from providing therapeutic support to torture survivors to protecting the environment.
What is common to the most successful fundraising programs is that they had a convincing Case for Support. Often considered to be crucial for major gift fundraising, they are one of your most important fundraising tools and a great resource that can be used across all your fundraising programs.
Through this comprehensive post, I will talk about the process of writing a case for support that grabs your donor’s heart, compelling them to believe that they simply must support you and that you are the answer to their philanthropic goals.
So what is a Case for Support anyway?
The Case for Support sets out the who, the what, the why and when of your organization. It passionately expresses the difference your organization makes in the community or with regard to a particular issue. It asks, and answers, the question “what if you didn’t exist?”. Who or what would be affected as a result of your organization not being there? It is also logical, demonstrating to a donor that your solution to the program makes sense and that it works. It also talks about your funding need.what the organization is fundraising for and why.
The Case for Support often serves both an internal and external purpose:
- Internally it can be used to ensure that all team members are fully aware of what the organization is doing, gives the correct language to use when making approaches and helps everyone to give out the same message, a message that is accurate and emotive.
- Externally the Case for Support should take the donor on a journey that explains what the organization does, what it hopes to do and why it is so important. By the time the donor comes to the end of the Case for Support they should be completely clear of exactly what is being asked of them and why they are the person, or organization, to help.
A clear Case for Support that is used across your whole fundraising program ensures that everyone, from the Chair of your Board to the person who answers the phone, is on point with the organization’s messaging and is singing from the same hymn sheet. Most crucially, however, it asks the reader to take an action, typically, to make a financial contribution towards your organization so that they can make a difference in an issue that really matters to them.
What a Case for Support is NOT
While a case for support is often informative, its purpose is not to educate. As a fundraising document its goal is to persuade. A mistake I often see in fundraising is that organizations use their Case for Support to tell the donor everything there is to know about the problem that they seek to fix. Typically people only pick up a fraction of what they read, so you want to make sure that you focus upon the most impactful information about why your program is so urgent or important.
Which leads me to process. Another common mistake I see is that organizations use the Case for Support to inform donors, in detail, about how they deliver their programs. Process is much less important than impact. How you do what you do is important in so far as it persuades the donor that you know what you are doing, but typically donors are much more interested in what difference you make in an issue that they care about.
So if you have a Case for Support already, look at it with a critical eye. Would it persuade someone who has never heard of you to get more involved? Is it bogged down with information that might distract a donor from the compelling, urgent message that you are trying to get across? If you do not yet have one, what do you think are the most important things that your donor needs to know to make a decision about supporting you?
The strongest Cases for Support are focused upon meeting the needs of your target donor community. They relay the message in a way that will resonate with your donors and persuade them to support you.
But what if your donors’ perception of your organization, what you do and your impact is different from what you think it is? This difference in viewpoint may seem unlikely, but in my conversations with hundreds of donors over the years, both as a fundraiser and as a consultant, it is more common than you would think.
A recent example of this occurred when I was working with an organization to develop their Case for Support. The organization was intending to push forward with specific messaging for a major gift campaign that was to be articulated in a new Case for Support document. Prior to its development, I carried out a series of interviews with some of their major gift prospects (which included some of their Board members) to understand how they already viewed the organization.
The organization was very surprised to find out that their prospective donors’ view of what the organization does and achieves was greatly different from the message that they were looking to drive in the coming year. As a result, it became clear that the donors would be less enthusiastic about how the organization planned to approach and present its work and impact. There was no doubt, following this exercise, that the chosen approach would have affected their fundraising success.
Experiences like this clearly indicate that it can be a mistake to assume that what staff members value with regard to what an organization does is the same as what your donors, and sometimes even your Board, actually do value. This is not to say that programming should be donor-led, but that by understanding your donors’ motivations in supporting you, you are more likely to develop and design a Case for Support that speaks to their heart, their passions and compels them to give.
Who are your audiences? What do you want them to do?
A Case for Support can serve many purposes. For example, in some cases, it might be used to solicit major gifts from wealthy individuals while in others, you may want a Case for Support that is intended to encourage people to leave a bequest to your organization. Depending upon your goals, and the motivations of your target audience, your approach may be subtly, or sometimes, dramatically, different. The first step is, therefore, to figure out who you intend to reach with it, based upon your fundraising goals, and what you what them to do.
Doing your research
When you know who your audiences are going to be, the next step is to understand them, their motivations and what they are looking for from you.
One way of doing this is through a stakeholder consultation process. Identify some key people who fit with your target demographic, who may include people who already support you and, if possible, some that do not (yet!). Then ask them to meet with you so that you can get their perspective on your organization. Through this process, you can begin to:
- Understand what people connected with the organization like and do not like about your messaging
- Spot any misconceptions held by your stakeholders about the organization
- Highlight any missed opportunities to engage your donors at a deeper level
- Identify aspects of the organization’s work that are particularly loved by those connected with it
- Understand your donors’ motivations for supporting you, or even in some cases, what may be standing in the way of their willingness to engage further
- Cultivate relationships with key supporters, staff and stakeholders, including the Board, particularly if their help, commitment, and support will be required to drive the program forward
If you want to reach a larger group, you may decide to distribute a survey to your chosen stakeholders. This will allow you to gather a broader range of responses to help inform the direction of your fundraising messaging.
Once you have a strong draft of your Case for Support, go back to some of your stakeholders and ask them what they think. What, if anything, moved them when reading it? Was there anything within it that did not resonate with them? Were they left with any questions about what you do or the impact that you create through your work? Did they feel compelled to offer their support as a result of reading it or were they less than excited?
With such feedback, you can refine your document so that as you move forward, your Case for Support is able to engage as many people as possible in the right way.
As fundraisers, we tend to know a lot about our respective organizations. Sometimes, this extensive knowledge can lead to us making assumptions about what our donors already understand about us. As a result, we may miss including crucial information that helps donors to fully comprehend what we do, or alternatively, we may overwhelm them with so many details that our key messages get lost.
By asking yourself a few simple questions, you can ensure that your Case for Support is focused on the most important points, the points that help your donor to feel enthused, passionate and confident that you are the solution to a problem that is concerning them, and one that you both seek to address.
What will it be used for? Will your Case for Support be used directly with donors? Or is it intended to be more of a resource document for your development team (board members or volunteers, for example) from which campaign material can be drawn? As a resource document, you may choose to include supplementary information that helps your fundraising team to confidently answer any additional questions that donors may have. As a direct gift solicitation tool, content is likely to be succinct and focused on impact, while inviting the donor to ask questions if they need to know more.
Who is your target audience? As with all fundraising communications, the language and content within your Case for Support should be tailored to the audience that you intend to reach. What are their motivations for supporting you likely to be? What content is most likely to inspire them? Donor understanding of your cause, and reasons for giving, can vary from person to person. Therefore, carrying out solid donor research is an important part of the process in order to get your messaging right.
What if you didn’t exist? What would the impact be if your organization ceased to exist, or didn’t exist at all? Who, or what, would suffer as a result of your organization not being there? By asking yourself these questions, you can focus on what really matters about the work you do, and the specific need in society that you address.
How do you demonstrate impact? Your Case for Support should demonstrate, rather than simply state, both the impact of a problem as well as the solution. Statistics and stories are great for doing this.
Stories and quotes are great at connecting donors to those you help. It encourages them to understand what it means to experience the problems that your beneficiaries face, and to understand how your organization makes a difference. If a donor is able to visualise and feel, through storytelling, a level and depth of change in a person’s life because of their intervention through your organization, they are more likely to want to invest in you.
Statistics help donors to understand the breadth or depth of a problem, as well as the reach of your program, but they can also turn people off if they are overused or complicated. Making your statistics relevant to your donor can help to create a greater connection to the cause. For example, it is far more impactful to say “out of every four people you know, one is likely to die from cancer,” than it is to say “29% of men and 24% of women are expected to die from cancer.”
Your unique solution. A Case for Support should include details of the program for which you seek support, while clearly articulating how it addresses the need you have identified. A common mistake I see is when an organization talks about its specific need, and then about its funding requirements, without clearly linking the two. Ensure that your reader can unmistakably understand how the program that you are asking them to fund, will solve the problem that you say exists, in an effective way.
Why you? With so many organizations doing great things, it’s not enough to be the only organization doing something in a particular way. Your uniqueness matters! What is it about your approach that has a bigger or better impact than others? Consider how you can talk about your achievements in a way that convinces donors that you will succeed if you have their financial support.
Why now? Urgency in a campaign can make all the difference between you receiving a gift and not. If a donor doesn’t feel compelled to act right away, they may never get around to writing you a cheque. Urgency can come from several angles. For example, it can come from showing that the need is so great that one must start now to avoid further suffering, or where completion within a certain period is crucial to the campaign’s success, such as with a capital campaign for essential building works to a care facility.
What do you need? If you have managed to tell a good enough story about the need, programs and impact, then you are ready to talk about money! Donors need to believe that you have everything in place to solve a problem, and the only missing piece is the funding. That’s where they come in. Be as clear and accurate as possible when discussing your budget. If you ask for too much, donors may become concerned that your organization is inefficient. If you ask for too little, you won’t have the funds to be able to deliver on your promises (which definitely won’t please your donors!).
A clear call to action. Finally, ensure that what you are asking for is clear, and that this ask is linked to making an authentic impact. Noting specific examples of what different gift levels can do helps donors to visualise the difference their contribution can make, such as buying a goat or feeding twenty children. It is also important to ensure that the levels you include are appropriate to the donor and within their capacity to give.
We often hear about the importance of storytelling in fundraising. This is unsurprising, since stories and storytelling help donors to visualise the importance of your work and the impact that they can have.
However, in creating your Case for Support, not only should it include great stories, it should tell its own story with a standard story arc. Whether your document is being used as a resource for your team or to be put directly in front of donors, your Case for Support should connect with the reader and lead them to a happy ending that is brought about as a result of their contribution.
In crafting a great Case for Support story, here are a few pointers.
Use your Case for Support to set the scene
As with any story, you need to start by grabbing the reader’s attention and helping them to understand what the story is about. You can do this by demonstrating to the importance, and sometimes desperate nature, of the issues that your organization seeks to address. If your job is to cure cancer, help people to realise the breadth and depth of the problem, and how it affects people’s lives. If it is to tackle poverty, demonstrate the crippling impact that poverty has on individuals and indeed, whole communities.
Making other people’s lives better feels good. It’s one of our main motivations for giving to charity. In your Case for Support story, the people you help should feature strongly. By enabling your donor to care about your beneficiaries and to understand how they can help them to have a better life, you begin to build an affinity and emotional connection between the donor and your cause, so that they feel compelled to act and to experience the joy of giving. Stories, pictures, and quotes are excellent in doing this, since they can both illustrate the sometimes devastating nature of the problem, but also experience the joy of visualising how that problem can be overcome.
Be the solution
If you have effectively “set the scene,” your donors will be so moved that they will be anxious to hear how the problem will be solved. That’s where your organization, and your donor, comes in. By demonstrating that you have the means to fix the problem, you can show the donor that there is an answer. Be careful though not to take too deep a dive into how you do this. A description of your work is important as it helps the donor to understand what you will do to fix the problem (and therefore what your donor will be paying for), but this content should not disrupt your document and distract the donor from feeling true the impact of their support.
Make your donor the hero
While I say that your organization provides the solution, ultimately your donor has to be the hero in your story. In other words, without their contribution, nothing happens. You cannot do your work, your beneficiaries do not receive the services that they so urgently need, and as a result, they suffer. By helping the donor to understand how their support fixes the problem, they become the hero and are able to feel that they are the ones making the difference.
The happy ending
The more specific you can be in describing your need the more likely that the donor is going to understand, and indeed visualise, how their contribution will lead towards a happy ending. Drilling down to specific actions and costs is always more effective than a vague laundry list of desires and nice-to-haves. Donors want to feel that their contribution will be well-spent to achieve a realistic goal, one that has a direct impact on solving a specific need.
Finding and using stories in your Case for Support
So now that we’ve tackled the story arc in your Case for Support, what about the stories themselves? Having the right stories is crucial, as the wrong stories can diminish your message or distract the reader from what they really need to know. Here are some ways to choose the right stories to create a compelling document.
Determine your goals first
Start by understanding what message you need to get across, and then seek out the stories to illustrate this. So for example, if you want to demonstrate the debilitating impact of an illness, include stories from sufferers that highlight what it means to live with the condition. If you want to show that your solution really works, find success stories that effectively show this off.
If you are working with others to identify and collect stories, explain your goals to them, too, so they can understand what your needs are and can keep an eye out for suitable stories and storytellers in their everyday work.
Figure out what is going to resonate with your audience
Remember, what resonates with you might not resonate with your donors (you, after all, probably know the organization much more intimately and what grabs your attention now may have evolved). This is why donor research is so important. Talk to your donors and ask them whether there were any stories that they remember that really moved them? What was it about that story that affected them so much? See if you can hone in on the key factors in a good story from the donor’s perspective.
Use your stories to relate to your donors
By touching on things in your story that your donor may experience or fear for themselves, you can sometimes create more connection. For example, by saying “I didn’t think I would make it to my daughter’s wedding. Because of the treatment I received from Charity X, I was able to walk her down the aisle” your donor gets to experience both the fear and the joy experienced by the beneficiary, in a way that your donor is likely to appreciate.
Use your stories to give your Case for Support more impact
Instead of putting all your stories in one place in your document, weave them into your messaging, using them to illustrate the points that you have made through your text. This way you can strengthening the emotional link to the important elements of your Case for Support and your key messages, and help to emphasise the importance of what you do.
We covered many important aspects of creating a powerful Case for Support, from how to make the case donor-centric to storytelling in your document. Now that you have your Case for Support, you may be asking yourself how you can best use it?
The benefits of developing and having your Case for Support can be significant. Let’s look at a few of the ways in which creating a case for support can make a difference to your fundraising program!
As a way of highlighting the gaps
The process of developing your Case for Support can be extremely illuminating. It can highlight where there may be gaps in your program logic, or even in just how information is presented. The Case for Support requires a logical flow of information that tells a powerful story, backed by strong evidence of both the needs and successful outcomes. If you have any gaps in this logic, or in the evidence, this will become apparent when you try to put a Case for Support together.
An example of this occurred when I worked with an organization that provided recreational programs for children. The organization claimed that they were having considerable impact on increasing young peoples self-esteem and confidence, and therefore their future wellbeing, which included improving their grades in school and the ability to later find employment. As a result of not effectively collecting the appropriate data and evidence to prove these claims, when it came to making the case to donors, they were falling short!
The Case for Support exercise led the organization to re-evaluate their programming, and then to establish rigorous and meaningful outcome measurement. In fact, as a result of their new systems, they discovered that they were having an impact in ways that they did not even know, including how young people were more positively interacting with family and developing their personal relationships!
As a resource
Of course, your Case for Support is an excellent tool for fundraising! Not only does it give you the polished language that makes your programs sound compelling and urgent, it also clearly collects valuable evidence of success that you will need for all of your fundraising communications. Collecting this data supports the development of your direct mail, grants and proposals, as well as helping your advocates, from board members to even other donors, know what to say when talking to supporters face-to-face.
While the tone and content may be a different in various communications, (a grant proposal will be written differently from a direct mail piece, for example) the most effective messaging will still be consistent in terms of who you are and what you intend to achieve. By using your Case for Support as the basis for all your communications, you can ensure that your messaging is always on-point and effectively communicates the impact you’re intending!
For your advocates
The Case for Support is an essential tool to support the people who are out there advocating on your behalf. This includes your Board members, your staff, as well as your volunteers. Time and time again, I have seen how Board members who have, in past, been reluctant to engage with fundraising, become more confident talking about the organization once they have seen a Case for Support.
A well-written document that is passionate and filled with powerful stories that demonstrate the importance of your work, serves not only to enthuse your ambassadors, and hopefully to the point where they are compelled to want to tell their friends about it, it also empowers them with the language and information they will need in order to be well prepared when questions are asked of them!
As well, be sure to give your Case for Support to your non-fundraising staff too! By helping other people in your organization understand fundraising, and how to talk about the work you do to donors and the outside world, you can begin to build a culture of philanthropy within your organization!
For your donors
While you, your team, and direct engagement with your donors will always be your best fundraising tool, your Case for Support can really help to move the conversation along when face-to-face with donors.
I have often used the Case for Support, even in its draft form, to engage in a conversation with donors to understand more about their motivations, what inspires them (and indeed, what does not!) about our work. By making a donor an “insider,” by asking for their views on the Case for Support, not only can you gather some very useful feedback, you help the donor feel that they are part of the team and that they have a special role in making a difference.
As a refresher, here are some ideas on how to get started with creating the Case for Support.
- Determine your goals.What are you looking to do? Reach and engage with major donors? Create a resource for your team so that they know how to talk about your organization? By understanding what your goals are, you can create the right document to meet your needs.
- Gather your information and identify your gaps.When you know what you want to achieve, think about the information that you need to tell your story. Do you need more evidence of impact? Do you need a better way to breakdown your costs making them more manageable chunks for donors to fund? Or do you need to find a way to gather more powerful stories?
- Determine who your audience is. Your Case for Support should be tailored to the audience that you are trying to reach, so what you say within it should match with your reader’s interests, aspirations and potential level of support. Stakeholder consultations can help you to understand what your potential donors might be looking for from you.
- Stakeholder consultation. Who would be best to consult to gather relevant feedback you will need to inform the development of your Case for Support? What questions do you need to ask to enable you to make decisions on what to include and what to leave out?
- Figure out who can help you. Can you do this on your own, or do you need help? Who’s help might you need to gather the stories and statistics that make your message compelling? Do you need confirmation that a certain project is going ahead, so that you can fundraise for it?
- Have a buddy! Once you have written your first draft, test it out on people that you trust to give you some honest feedback. It can be good to test it on someone who knows your work well, to ensure that the information reflects your work properly, but also someone who does not know you at all, to find out if the language is both compelling and easily understood.
- Test with your donors! When you have a strong enough draft, consider testing it with some of your closer donors to get their opinions. Not only can this help to draw your donors more into your inner circle, it can elicit some extremely valuable feedback that can help you to refine the document before it is used more widely.
- Have a strong design. Good design, with attractive and thought-provoking pictures, well-highlighted quotes and plenty of white space can make all the difference in how easy to read your document can be.
- Go out and fundraise! You now have one of the most useful tools in your toolbox to go out and fundraise! When you have a moment, let me know how you make out!
Every successful fundraising program starts with a dynamic, persuasive, donor-centric Case for Support. In telling a story, positioning the donor as the hero, and clearly identifying the value that organization provides above all others, you will be able to make a meaningful, lasting connection. With this direction, you will be able to craft a compelling Case for Support that strikes the right note with donors and convinces them that your organization is the answer to their philanthropic objectives.