Developing the case for support is one of the primary ingredients of a healthy campaign. But what happens when an organization fails to see the importance of laying out specific case elements? This lack of detail reflects poorly on both the project and the organization.

During a request visit, you never want to receive a comment such as, “Why would I invest in a half-baked concept?” Lack of planning, unrealistic fundraising goals, and lack of specificity will lead to poor results and confused, frustrated donors.

Unsurprisingly, ascertaining specific case elements can be the most difficult and challenging part of a fundraising project. But when we skip step one and move on to steps two and three, we create roadblocks and obstacles to success.

The Five Dangers of Not Being Specific:

  1. Confusion
    • Most donor prospects do not want to sift through text to find the true meaning of the campaign; they want a simple cause and effect. “By pledging $XX,XXX, this ‘something’ will happen in our organization.” Without concrete plans, the case is left up to interpretation by donors and volunteers. This confusion leads to a skewed perception of need, misguided vision of future goals, and money left on the table.
  2. Money Left on the Table
    • With confusion comes the potential to leave money on the table. Donors want to have, and should have, a clear understanding of their money’s purpose. A donor may see the need for a campaign but not see the full picture due to lack of detail or sense of need. As a result, that prospect may not feel compelled to stretch his/her dollars and what could have been a $100,000 pledge may become a $45,000 pledge.
  3. Case of Want, Not Necessity
    • Lack of detail can sometimes leave donors thinking an organization has a vision based on wants rather than needs. People give to needs. For example, if a case for support has a $1.5 million goal to renovate ABC School’s building, which of the below sounds like a need versus a want?
      • ABC School is testing a $1.5 million goal to renovate the school building and fulfill our vision for future generations.
      • ABC School is testing a $1.5 million goal to fix the HVAC system in the main school building, update the classrooms by installing computers, and replace the broken tile floors with sustainable Pergo flooring.The first example gives a general idea of what will happen. Often, a Board of Directors will agree on this statement because the school building truly needs renovating and they understand what that involves. However, a prospective alumni donor who is not as close to the project may not know exactly why the school needs renovation. The second example explains exactly what the school needs and conveys a sense of need.  Anyone who reads it can envision a school with no AC, crumbling floors, and no technology.
  4. Mixed Messages/Speculation
    • Drawing from the ABC School example, take a look at how using the first example can lead to mixed messages. That prospective alumni donor may think that renovating his alma mater is a super idea; he wants to support his school and give future students the best opportunities and education possible. When he asks the question: “What renovations are needed,” more often than not, the answer to this question may be “It depends on how much money we raise.” Trained volunteers may leave out a few elements or add in other projects that may occur if enough money is raised. Specific case elements and details help guide the campaign as well as guide the volunteers to help convey the plans of an organization. The two essential questions that need to be answered are what are we raising money for and what is the expected outcome?
  5. No Sense of Urgency
    • A lack of specificity translates to a lack of urgency. If an organization wants to test the idea of a campaign without having specifics, why should a donor feel compelled to give when there is no specific pressing need? Part of the case for support includes defining the situation of today and the need for the future. Combined with a realistic timetable, these two fundamentals will convey that sense of urgency and instill trust in potential donors.

Have you ever found yourself or your organization in any of these dangerous situations? Share your story or any additional dangers you can think of in the comments below.

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About the Author

Vann Ellen Mitchell is an Executive Director with CCS Fundraising. She has experience with healthcare institutions, associations, and religious and human service organizations. Vann has significant knowledge in capital campaigns, major gift fundraising, prospect management, and research. She holds a B.S. from UNC – Chapel Hill and an M.A. from Carnegie Mellon University.