By Heather Ehlert, Vice President of Client Services
For most of us, speaking confidently about our organization’s mission comes naturally. But we can best respond to the question “Why should I donate or support your organization?” after we’ve gone through the process of developing a Case for Support. Good advocates for any organization – Board members, Executive Directors, fundraisers and program and administrative staff – will not only fully understand the Case for their organization, but will be able to eloquently share it. This is just one reason why a strong, well-developed Case for Support is essential to your organization’s fundraising success.
Case for Support – just what is it?
The Association of Fundraising Professional’s Fundraising Dictionary defines the case for support as “the reason why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs and plans.” “Case for Support” is also a broad term, often encompassing many different end uses. Variations of an organizational Case for Support can be developed for specific types of fundraising activities – such as a Fundraising Feasibility Study (concept paper) or Capital Campaign (campaign brochure). These pieces incorporate the general summary of the organization’s activities and purpose plus items that are specific to the fundraising effort in which it will be used.
What’s your “Case” for the Case?
A Case for Support is much more than an informational brochure that you leave with donors. It should be required reading for every one of your organization’s advocates. This includes your staff, Board members, volunteers and anyone else who could be speaking on behalf of your organization.
Aside from functioning as an educational tool, the Case for Support is the foundation from which all marketing and development collateral is based. It could be used for developing materials for an annual campaign, special event or as supplemental information for government grant and foundation proposals.
The Case for Support should be used as part of the recruitment process for new Board members and other key volunteers, in staff orientations and training events, for internal committees who may be looking at expanding or changing the types of services offered to the community and as part of the strategy when educating public officials about the organization’s role in the community.
These are just a handful of ways that a Case for Support can enhance your organization.
What goes into a Case for Support?
Before you get started, ask yourself – Why does your organization exist? What do you do? Whom do you serve? What makes your organization unique? Your answers provide the core elements for your Case that will define your role in the community. Some critical elements that should be included in the “Case for Support” include the following:
- Your mission (or purpose statement) and how it creates passion in your staff, Board members and volunteers
- Your organization’s vision, values and long-range plans; your goals
- A history of your organization, including “founding families” and other milestones
- A listing of programs and services that you provide to the community
- Descriptions of your programs/services stated in terms of the impact they have had in your community over the last three years, and your projected impact in the near future (number of people served, outcomes achieved, economic impacts or impacts stated in other terms that are consistent with the mission and goals of your organization)
- Your financial strength, or capacity to do the work you do – this demonstrates your financial stability and good stewardship of donors’ funds
- A list of board members, other key volunteers, staff and donors
The first of JB+A’s Six Criteria for Success in fundraising is A Case for Support that is Realistic, Relevant and Compelling. A fact-based and compelling story will have urgency, significance and appeal. An effective Case for Support is specific in scope and will clearly communicate the purpose, programs and financial needs of the organization. It will explain why the organization seeks funding and will demonstrate potential benefits to stakeholders.
Facts are all well and good, but be sure to use these facts to tell a human story that moves people to get involved. Speak to a supporter of your organization and find out what they love about your mission. Interview an individual served by your organization – what does it mean to them to have this resource in the community?
A short, sweet and compelling Case is your key to success. Put yourself in your prospective donors’ shoes and ask yourself, “What would YOU want to know in order to drop everything and help them make a difference?”