I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day about their Case for Support and how to ensure that it has the full impact that it should. While they were clearly doing amazing work, something was definitely missing in terms of how they were explaining the difference that they were making in the world.
While the organization was able to explain its programs clearly, it was struggling to demonstrate that it was in fact tackling some very serious issues in the community in a way that no one else was. As a result, what they were doing was sounding more like a “nice to have” program, rather than something that should be a priority for funders.
Donors are typically seeking to make the world a better place, and they want to do that through you. If you are unable to show to them how your work addresses serious, and urgent issues, they will be less compelled to donate. In your Case for Support, it is therefore essential that you are able to draw a very clear link between the need that the community has, the programs that you provide, and how your programs bring about real change that is of true value.
Let me share an example of what I mean.
I once worked with an organization that ran after-school soccer classes for kids in a deprived neighbourhood. The organization served around 30 children a week, and they had some lovely testimonials about how much the children enjoyed going. However, what I discovered was that the organization was doing far, far more than giving children a good time. In fact, they were tackling some significant issues within the community that really needed to be addressed.
For example, we discovered that many of the children were not participating in much physical activity outside of the club. So the program was improving their health through fitness. Some of the children had expressed that they often felt socially isolated and struggled to make friends, with some even displaying early signs of depression resulting from their feelings of loneliness. But once they joined the club, they began to form strong and healthy relationships with other children. As a result, they were feeling much happier and their mental wellbeing was clearly improving.
As a result of the teamwork required to participate, children were also learning both leadership and other skills vital skills for the workplace later in their lives. Furthermore, the program drew in children from different economic and cultural backgrounds, and since the teamwork involved in the sport encouraged people to work together, differences were being better understood and barriers were being broken down, therefore instilling a greater sense of community.
Finally, the program included children that were at greater risk of getting involved in anti-social behaviour, but because the program gave children a focus, built self-esteem, as well as access to strong adult role models that they could both look up to and talk to, these concerning behaviours were diminishing.
Not bad for an after-school program that was just teaching kids how to play soccer is it?
The trouble was, none of these benefits were being explained to potential donors. The organization was in effect presenting its program as a “nice to have” rather than an important program that not only was changing the lives of the children involved, but much longer term had the potential to positively impact communities by creating stronger leaders and improving community cohesion. Because the organization was not explaining their impact sufficiently, donors were struggling to prioritise the club over other worthy causes in terms of their giving.
However, when we set about recording the various ways that the program was making a difference, and measuring more clearly for impact, we began to tell a different story about the need for their work. As a result, the organization saw a sharp increase in support for its work, particularly from foundations and individuals. The level of endorsement they received from other community leaders, from educators to law enforcers, also increased, giving the club more credibility, which in turn, helped them to attract more funding.
Demonstrating a clear impact in our communications is essential to successful fundraising, and is something we should all be striving to do in our fundraising materials. So how do you set about doing this? Here are some simple tips to get you started:
Measure your impact. One of the biggest challenges I experience when working with organizations is that they often measure their outputs (e.g. the number of people participating in their programs), but they aren’t measuring outcomes (the difference that they are making). In other words, they are not tracking how their programs are meeting the need that they have identified. They may even talk about need, and talk about outcomes, but they don’t make the link between the two clear enough (if you need some help in making that link in your organization, you can download a free template here).
Think about the impact if you didn’t exist. Like in the soccer club example, if the club no longer existed, yes, fewer children would have had the chance to learn how to play soccer, but the loss would have meant so much more than that. Children would have undoubtedly suffered in other ways as a result of not having such a valuable opportunity. (I write more about this topic here).
Think in terms of your community’s problems, rather than just your own. Often when talking to organizations, they tell me they are looking for operating grants or funding to pay for things like salaries or equipment. Donors rarely care about such issues. What they care about is impact. They want to know that, as a result of funding a salary for example, you able to deliver a program or activity that addresses an issue, in their community of interest, that they care about (this of course leads to the importance of fully understanding what your donors care about).
Evidence the need. Just because you state that something is a problem in society, it doesn’t mean that your donors will believe you or fully appreciate the magnitude or impact of the problem. You may need to prove it with clear and relevant evidence. Using the soccer club example, donors might not, for instance, that almost 90 per cent of school-aged kids are failing to meet the recommended minimum of 90 minutes exercise a day. Or they may not know how sports programs have also been proven to improve mental health and reduce anti-social behaviour. So you may need to make these facts explicit when you talk with them.
Tell them a story. Nothing helps donors to appreciate the scale or importance of the problems that you address better than stories. Storytelling is essential in fundraising, since it can play a part in taking your donors on a journey towards an ask. It can also help to illustrate the need that you have, as well as how your program effectively addresses that need, in a very human way. When donors can truly relate to the people you support, or appreciate their experiences, through a story, they are much more likely to want to get involved.
So when thinking about how you explain your programs to your donors, are you clear with them about the problem that you work to solve? Are you tackling truly urgent, or significant issues that donors are likely to care about? If you are, is it coming across strongly enough in your fundraising communications? Do your messages of need and impact run through all your communications, from your fundraising website to your fundraising letters?
By demonstrating that you are fixing an urgent and crucial problem, donors are much more likely to be feel compelled to support you in your mission and your fundraising has a much greater chance of thriving.
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