True story: My very first fundraising job (more than 20 years ago!) was for a university. On the first day of my new job, I sat in a meeting where my colleagues were talking about a capital campaign to renovate the athletic building. They discussed the purpose of the structure, the various elements to the design, and the capital campaign goal. Eventually, the conversation shifted, and the Vice President of Advancement said, “We just need to start building the case.” There were several subsequent statements made about the case. Being very, very new to all this, I tried to put two and two together, but eventually, had to ask: “Why is the case so important to the building?” Someone answered, “Because it will show the donors how worthwhile the project is.” I was still stymied. I couldn’t figure out why a case full of athletic trophies would make or break the campaign. And so I asked, “Why is a case full of trophies so important to raise that much money? Is it because the donors were the trophy winners at one point?” The Vice President did a spit take.
You can see where this is going, right? They were talking about the case for support, not a trophy case! After everyone had a good laugh at the new girl’s expense, I got a quick and dirty tutorial on case statements.
I’ve written countless case statements since that day and can attest to the fact that case statements are essential in showing donors the worthiness of a project.
Recently, there’s been an uptick in the number of case statements I’ve written for capital campaigns. The process is rewarding and effective because after collecting stories, data, and financial information, the clients end up with a concise and compelling document that helps the organization articulate its goals and intentions. This document provides a gateway for donors, showing them how they can be involved in the organization’s efforts. When it’s finished, the case becomes the guiding resource for all your campaign donor conversations. Also and more broadly, the case can contain the kernels of all your most crucial campaign talking points – those messages you want to share on all your various communication channels such as your website, newsletter, Instagram or Facebook at the appropriate time.
Given how powerful a case statement is during a capital campaign, I’ve begun to encourage my clients to create them for their annual fundraising efforts as well. Here’s why:
- Writing a case statement forces you to get focused and organized. Since a case statement is usually only 5-8 pages long, it can’t contain everything and the kitchen sink. Instead, the case should only include your top 1-3 funding priorities and the justification for why donors should support those priorities. Writing the document forces the organization to gain clarity on which funding needs are more important or more urgent than others.
- A case statement requires financial information. It is important when writing a compelling case statement to include accurate and factual information on your organization’s funding structure and its financial goals, including the cost of the effort for which you are currently fundraising. How will this fundraising effort impact the overall financial picture of the organization? What will happen if these funds aren’t raised? Many organizations I’ve worked with have a good idea of how much money is needed each year, but they have a much clearer picture after they’ve spent time developing financial projections that are included a case for support. Often, developing financial projections can be an eye-opening exercise.
- A case statement articulates the context in which your organization is working. Donors want to know where your organization fits in the greater scheme of things. And, they want to understand what you do differently or better than anyone else. What’s your niche? How does that niche help to address the bigger issue or advance the greater mission? Articulating where your organization fits in context to others is a useful reminder that you are not operating in a vacuum. Writing out the context in which you work for a case statement can help the organization remember the bigger picture.
- A case statement gives direction to donor conversations. Does meeting with donors to secure their annual gifts ever feel stale or rote to you? I bet it does. I bet it begins to feel the same way for your donors. After all, how many different ways can you say, “Will you give XXX to our annual fund this year?” Now imagine that conversation with a new document that outlines the priorities for the year, tells exactly how you’ll use their donations and measure their impact. Imagine reviewing the case with the donors, stopping to highlight the story and photo you’ve included of a client, or explaining the infographic that showcases the number of people you’ve served over time. Wouldn’t a tool like that make annual donor conversations feel more lively and engaging? Well-written case statements can enliven and direct your conversations with donors.
- An annual case statement can help your program staff better understand how fundraising goals connect directly to their jobs. When they see the breakdown in the document for how the funds will be used, they begin to realize that fundraising isn’t an abstract endeavor. Instead, they learn that the money raised is for them and the work they do.
I’ve written case statements to help an organization and raise money for a new development position. I’ve written a case statement to help an organization secure six months of emergency expenses. I’ve written case statements to help donors understand that when they give to the annual fund, they ARE giving to programs. None of those case statements were for capital campaigns, but each was successful in their purpose because they educated the donor on the effort and gave her the kind of information she needed to support the organization in the way that was being requested.
I encourage you if you aren’t already doing so, to consider writing a case statement for your annual fundraising efforts. I believe you’ll see an improvement in the quality of the conversations you have with your donors when you use the document as a guide in your discussion.
In Part Two of this article, I’ll share the necessary elements to a case statement and outline a process for making sure your case is as compelling as it can be.