Writing a case for support can be a daunting and sometimes overwhelming task. As organizations prepare for a campaign, they are often faced with competing priorities, varying levels of detail, and limited resources. However, an effective case can excite, compel, and inspire your donors to dream big and raise their philanthropic sights. The case is the guiding document upon which the entire narrative of your campaign is built. In other words, its importance cannot be overstated.
Overcoming Common Challenges – Potential Missteps to Avoid
Misunderstanding the Purpose – An early mistake in writing your case is to misunderstand the purpose of this document during the initial drafting process. The case is not a stand-alone document. It should be designed with the intention of being accompanied by a personal visit from a volunteer or leader of your organization. In addition, the case is the basis for all other documents in the campaign. Directly from the text of your case, you will develop your campaign website, major gift proposals, campaign brochures, stewardship documents, and other collateral. You will also reutilize the design elements to create a cohesive set of supporting materials, such as your gift agreement form, request letters, or mailings. Therefore, the content, tone, and design should be carefully developed with buy-in from leadership and key stakeholders early in the planning stages of a major effort.
Forgetting the Audience – When writing the case, a common mistake is to not consider the recipient. The case is not a financial statement, strategic plan, or organizational manifesto. It should be written with real donors in mind. It should include an emotional appeal for why the project matters and convey the impact a prospective donor can make through participation. At its core, the case should show how the donor can be the hero in transforming his or her community by making a philanthropic investment.
Lacking Good Design or Editing – Perhaps the challenge that can be most easily addressed is avoiding errors within a case for support. Poorly edited or designed documents detract from the gravity of the project and the impact it will have for an organization and can make it painfully clear that not enough time and effort was spent on the case. To avoid this misstep, proofread your document at every turn, and ask others internally to read it carefully before presenting it externally. Similarly, a poorly designed document reflects a lack of effort or thought on the part of the organization. Case statements should be visually appealing to grab the readers’ attention and convey the importance of a campaign.
Where to Begin?
Strategic Priorities – Knowing how to begin drafting a case is a challenge that many organizations face. Before anything ever reaches paper, there are internal discussions and decisions that shape a major fundraising effort. This may include strategic planning or a visioning sessions, which can be a natural guide for developing funding priorities. Some organizations are compelled by a desire to do too much and, as a result, find out too late that they should narrow their focus and better prioritize funding their needs and wants. Other organizations may limit their capabilities too severely by underestimating their reach or by insufficiently conveying their missions. It is therefore important to think strategically from the onset to avoid these pitfalls.
Feasibility or Planning Study – Often, conducting a feasibility and planning study can help uncover funding priorities that resonate with your donors. These studies provide your organization the opportunity to ask stakeholders what is important to them and to determine your community’s appetite for funding various projects.
Cost Estimates and Impact Analysis – Other key areas of planning should include creating cost estimates and quantifying impact. Savvy donors will be influenced both by the cost of funding different projects and by what impact their gift can have on your organization and the community you serve. Your organization should be prepared to present this information in the case. These early steps should be taken internally with a small strategic planning committee or your board. Once you have a general outline of your plan and funding needs, it is then time to begin writing your case.
The Solution – Four Initial Steps
1. Gather and Organize Your Information – Start where you are. Gather the information you currently have about your plans, funding areas, and costs. Cast a wide net to collect all relevant information and documentation that you may need in writing your case. This includes:
- Organizational information (i.e. mission, vision, strategic plan, branding guidelines)
- Program or project details/schematics
- Cost estimates
- Impact stories
- Photos / renderings / visuals
Categorizing and organizing your information before you begin writing will reveal where gaps exist and allow you to begin outlining your content and vision in a way that makes sense and is true to your organization.
2. Create a Comprehensive Outline – After you have collected your information, begin by creating an outline of the content of your case statement. To start, it can be helpful to answer the following questions using the information you collected in Step 1:
- What issues does your organization target (mission)?
- What are the strengths of your organization?
- What is the challenge or obstacle you are facing?
- How do you propose to overcome this obstacle? What is your plan?
- How will you get there? What are your funding needs?
- What will be the impact of fulfilling those funding needs? How will this create a change in the community?
- What are you asking of the donor?
Your outline should include relevant details but should also be a relatively high-level overview of the organization, the challenge you are facing, your vision for the future, and the impact the donor can have. Include the most important information and leave out specifics that are irrelevant for your audience.
3. Write a Compelling Story – At the center, the prospective donor should be the protagonist of an engaging story. Using the outline created in Step 2, begin to supplement your content with compelling language that motivates your prospective donors to see themselves as an active participant in overcoming your organization’s challenges. An effective case will include an accurate description of how the donor will create transformational change in the community through his or her participation. Drafting the language to carefully consider word choice and tone will help to bring the story to life. The closing should incorporate a “call to action,” a final invitation that propels the donors along the engagement pipeline.
4. Design an Engaging Document – The appearance of your document can significantly impact the way your donor views the campaign. In fact, according to the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, more than 46 percent of people say design was the primary criterion for determining a company’s credibility. After creating a compelling story, you should begin designing your document. A well-designed case can elevate, or conversely damage, how donors perceive the importance of a fundraising effort. Your organization may have already defined branding guidelines. If so, utilize these to ensure your case is recognizable and aligned with your organizational culture. If you have limited resources, designing your document can seem like a challenge; however, keeping the following in mind will make the process much less daunting:
- You don’t need to be a professional designer or use design software. You can design using PowerPoint and draw inspiration by searching for other case statements in your search engine.
- Be consistent with the size of your text, margins, alignment and other small details. Uniformity will demonstrate professionalism and the importance of this document to your prospective donors.
- By using high-quality photos, we can convey information more quickly. Using a well-placed photo can be more impactful than text content. If your organization doesn’t have high-resolution images on hand, consider taking new photos or using compelling stock photos that align with your mission.
- Use design elements such as bolding, titles, text boxes, and color to emphasize important information.
What to Remember When Getting Started
Writing a compelling case for support will not happen overnight. Achieving your best case will require meticulous planning, drafting, designing, and editing. This process will involve a concentrated effort from staff members and volunteers. Along the way, you should share iterations of the case with other team members, volunteers, and prospective donors. Asking your stakeholders for feedback and building consensus throughout the development of the case will prevent setbacks and build familiarity with the case throughout the organization. Likewise, following the aforementioned steps sequentially is important. Jumping ahead is counterproductive and can create additional work and redrafting.
As you begin, keep impact at the front of your mind. Drafting your case can seem overwhelming, but it is also exciting. You are embarking on a process that can create a ripple effect in your community and impact your organization for years to come. Bring that passion, excitement, and vision for the future with you as you sit down at your table and begin crafting a compelling case.
CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.
About the Author
Claire Bens has more than five years of experience in the nonprofit industry. She holds a master’s degree from London School of Economics. In her work, Claire partners with clients spanning multiple sectors, including religion, education and human services, to provide campaign management, planning, major gift strategies and development training.