Step 1: Develop a Fundraising Case for Support
A Case for Support is quite simply the most important document your organization will ever write. It is both the cornerstone of any fundraising campaign and the portfolio of your organization’s amazing achievements. It is the key document you will need to have in place when you set out to raise funds to meet your mission during annual campaigns, to fund capital campaigns or to state endowment needs and make requests for significant gifts. In addition, it will be your resource document when it comes time to write proposals and grant applications.
A Case for Support is essentially the rationale for supporting you based on both the factual background and history of your organization and on those beneficial, worthwhile services or solutions you provide to the community you serve every day. It must be the expression of your organization’s credibility and integrity, and it must answer any question anyone could possibly raise about your organization:
- Why is your organization different from similar service providers?
- What are the specific needs of the people/communities you serve?
- What impact are you making? Are you being successful?
- What are your priorities at this time? Your urgent needs?
- How do you normally raise funds?
- How will the funds raised be used?
- How will the funds specifically benefit those you serve? And the community?
If the Case is written well, it will actually encourage people to ask you even more questions, as they will be eager to learn more about your organization and the wonderful things it does. Of course, the main question you always want them to ask is, How can I help? Isn’t that, after all, the goal of the Case for Support? In the end, a Case for Support is a Call to Action.
However, a Case for Support is also much more than a fundraising tool. It can serve many other needs within your organization:
- A communications tool
- A marketing tool
- A training tool
- A planning tool
- An inspirational tool (to motivate staff, board and to recruit volunteers)
As mentioned, it is also a resource document—if not the resource document—for future reference. A main Case for Support can be very long, if your organization does many things and has branches or multiple programs and service offerings. The text of the Case, once written however, can be split into smaller documents or recycled for specific campaigns that may require brochures or pamphlets. In other words, a main Case for Support can morph into a Case Summary to present to a bank, to include in a grant proposal, or can develop into a Case Statement or a Case Brochure for a specific campaign, with graphics and/or well-chosen photos.
When do you need a Case for Support? All the time—if you are a not-for-profit organization! Consider it a business plan for donors. You want to show those investors your organization is a worthy investment.
In summary, a Case for Support will describe your organization, inventory its achievements, promote the cause, justify the need for funds and raise your organization’s overall profile.
A well-written Case for Support will also inspire, encourage and motivate people to support your organization through financial contributions or act on your behalf as volunteers and as goodwill ambassadors.
Writing the Case
A Case for Support tells your organization’s unique story–the whole story. And that is the key to understanding a Case for Support. It is a matter of telling a good story, one that draws readers in and never lets them doubt for a minute that your organization is the greatest and your cause the most worthy. That doesn’t mean you have to exaggerate and embellish, or heaven forbid, lie. No, it means that you must write your Case for Support with heart, soul and passion—you know, that same heart, soul and passion that all of you bring to the work you do every day.
A well-argued case may be logical, rational and full of great, supporting statistics, but the case can fall flat if it doesn’t reach out to people. People do not give to causes, to arguments, or to bricks and mortars for that matter. People give to other people. So regardless of the campaign goal or the need, you have to appeal to both hearts and minds. Frame the argument in anecdotal material and you have listeners. However, avoid sentimentality and emotionalism at all costs. This will not serve your purpose.
A Case must be balanced. It is not a plea; it is reasoned argument that states a need clearly and concisely, appealing to the readers’ intellect while also calling upon other motivating factors that make us human: a desire to help others, to give back to the community, to show compassion, to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
Let’s look at the steps that you should be taking to write an effective Case:
1. You must gather all the relevant information about your organization, such as founding history, your mission statement, your vision statement, significant milestones, awards, achievements—in short, everything that defines your organization. Have your research done, your stats and data at the ready—everything you need to support your Case. Ask yourselves the question: What do donors need to know about us?
2. Define your main reason or objective for doing the Case. Are you responding to an immediate need, such as a specific campaign? Or is this going to be the big case, the one that you will be using for your day-to-day requirements annually? This will definitely have an impact on the overall structure of the document.
3. At this point, you can hand off the actual writing of the Case to a professional writer, or proceed to write it within the organization. (More about that at the end of this Step, but make sure you give the writer all the relevant research material that you can and that you clearly articulate the key focus of the case to the writer beforehand.)
4. Remember we spoke about framing the argument? If you are writing it within the organization, you now must choose how to arrange and present those components. So write an outline. What do you need to include? Chronology? Length? Leave the financial call to action until the end. It will be your last section, just before the contact information. If the document is lengthy, don’t forget to include a Table of Contents.
5. Visualize the document coming together through your outline. Who will be reading the document? Address all potential questions. Like a reporter, remember the Five Ws. (And don’t forget the How!) Be informative but not wordy. Don’t underplay the business perspective either. You must present a definable need—something that a donor can grasp as a tangible goal.
6. Continuing with the framing of your case, you may choose to draw on a theme, focus on individual success stories, and/or add strategically placed quotes, statistics or sidebars to enhance the argument. You should be asking yourself, how can this be presented in the most appealing manner possible? A Case is, after all, just words on a page. The message does have to grab the reader’s attention.
7. This brings us to the all-important topic of language. Choose the language of your document with care. Avoid too much insider jargon—your volunteers might understand it but chances are your donors won’t. Don’t avoid special vocabulary entirely, however. You will have terminology and language that is part of your organization’s culture, and you should use it. Just avoid the ten-pound words that are mere filler. Don’t talk down to people; don’t be too lofty.
The key is precision! Don’t be vague, don’t overstate your case with excessively emotional language, and above all, don’t plead! You must write concisely and with clarity. Explain obscurities—make data and statistics relevant and meaningful to the overall argument. Never take for granted that they will be understood at face value. Chances are they will not. You will have to draw the line to understanding.
Make sure the tone is serious (professional, that is), casual, but not flippant, and positive overall. Even if you are writing about hospice care, there is no need to be overtly grave. Remember, you are telling the world about the great things your organization does to alleviate that pain and suffering.
Finally, never criticize other organizations doing similar things; focus on your wonderful organization.
8. Complete a first draft. Revise and edit where necessary. At this point, you may wish to present it to a select group for feedback. Take note of all changes or corrections, and weigh all suggestions and requests. Remember, the overall tone and focus of the document takes precedence over personal preferences.
9. Usually there is a second draft. Make sure that the technical information is correct (statistics, facts and financials) and proceed to a final edit. (Or a third draft, if necessary. There may be several steps along the way, so be patient!)
10. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Yes, as many times as possible! The human eye tires, and it is also a known fact that your brain likes to see what is supposed to be there as opposed to what really is. Nothing is worse than a mistake going to print!
So, let’s recap:
- Gather up research and all relevant background information.
- Define key focus.
- Development phase ends. Writing phase begins.
- Create the outline (and a Table of Contents).
- Consider the core content carefully.
- Brainstorm other elements that could be included to enhance the message.
- Watch your language!
- Complete the first draft.
- Complete the second draft.
- Proofread, and you should have a final draft.
In the end, what separates a great Case for Support from an ordinary Case for Support is not only that it states your funding goal but also how well this key document reflects your organization through its style, structure, tone and language. Moreover, when it is written in fresh, powerful language, it can actually be an antidote to donor fatigue.
On a final note, let’s address a couple of misconceptions about Cases and about Case Writing:
1. Remember, a Case for Support is a living document. Don’t put it away under lock and key. It will be your resource document for future reference. You can add and remove pages/material as necessary. And it will change with time. It is not static. You will have to revisit your original case from time to time as your organization evolves, achieves goals and reaches milestones. You will want to add these new achievements. And you will want to revise it. You might even need to rewrite it. But never underestimate the importance of having one at the ready.
2. It has been said that only the organization and its staff can write a good Case for Support. Not true. A professional writer will not only see your organization through fresh eyes, but also he or she will bring special training and language skills to the table, to articulate your Case for Support using the right words and the right tone that will both reflect your organization and communicate your goals effectively.
Permission is granted to reprint and distribute this material provided it is attributed: “Reprinted with permission from The Goldie Company”.
Next step: Step 2: Develop a Fundraising Strategy