Your case for support (sometimes called your “case statement,” a term we will use interchangeably in this article) is one of the most important documents you can write for your non-profit. It forms the basis for all of your donor communications and asks, and provides a valuable resource to everyone who is soliciting donations on your behalf.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at how to write a strong and compelling case for support for your organization. We’ll first talk about what case statements are and why they are important. Later, we’ll offer a step-by-step plan for writing your case for support.
A case for support is one of the most important documents in your non-profit’s fundraising arsenal. Your case statement:
Simply put, your case for support is a 2-7 page document that tells donors who your organization is, what it has accomplished in the past, outlines your vision for the future, tells the donor why your organization’s vision matters and why the donor should care, and gives the donor a chance to get involved by making an investment in your non-profit.
If that’s still too wordy, I will try to boil it down even further: Case statements cast a bold vision for a better future, and invite donors to get caught up in that vision.
Great case statements include a mix of both emotionally compelling stories and descriptions of the work you are doing, as well as cold, hard facts that back up your claim to be a positive force in the world. In a great article in Philanthropy News Digest, Carl Richardson tells us that “effective fundraising is a result of telling your story.” Your case for support does just that – it tells your organization’s story in a way that leads to more gifts for your non-profit.
Every single non-profit organization needs a case statement. Every. Single. One.
In my view, the case for support should be one of the first things you do when you form your non-profit. Without a strong case for support, you won’t be able to raise money. Without the ability to raise money, you won’t be able to carry out your mission. In short, neglecting your fundraising is neglecting your mission, and neglecting your case for support is neglecting your fundraising.
People want to give to organizations who cast a compelling vision. As you approach donors, they will want to know why they should care about your non-profit’s work. You know they should care. The case for support is your opportunity to show them why they should care.
If you want to raise money, you need a written case for support.
The case statement you write will form the basis for all of your non-profit communications. As you write newsletters, direct mail, your website, donor materials, etc., you should constantly be referring back to your case for support both for the logic and language you are using to talk to donors.
You should also create an “external” case for support that is shorter than your overall case for support and drawn from it, and that is suitable for sharing directly with donors.
This modified version of your case statement can serve as a sort of major donor prospectus that you can give to higher level givers that are considering a gift to your non-profit. Many organizations also use the case for support on their websites and in their grant proposals as the rationale for giving. Several charities I have worked with have successfully boiled the case statement down into a one or two page lower-level donor brochure that can be used at events, walk-a-thons and in other donor prospecting.
Every non-profit need a strong case for support, no matter how small or large the organization is or what its fundraising revenues are.
So far, we've talked about the importance of your non-profit case for support (also called a “case statement”). We have also looked at which non-profits need written case statements and how they are used.
In this following sections we’re going to look at the statement itself… including what concepts should go into your case for support as well as the actual process of writing the document.
As you lay out a plan to write your case for support, it is important to know which ideas and items should be included in the statement. Here are the 7 key concepts which need to be included in every case:
#1: An Emotional Opening – Donors and prospects will use the first paragraph or two of your case statement to decide whether or not the rest of the document is worth reading.
Use your opening to pack an emotional punch. Avoid the temptation to start with something like, “Our organization was founded in 1942 by…” and instead start with something like, “Michael was hungry, desperate, and alone, until he found us.”
#2: Your Mission and Vision – Why does your organization exist? Why should people care? What is your big, bold vision for the future?
#3: History of the Organization – Give a brief summary of the founding of your organization and a short history of its work to date.
#4: Explanation of Your Programs – Tell the reader what programs you are currently running. Give a short explanation of each.
#5: Outcomes and Proof of Impact – Show proof that what you are doing is worthwhile. Use statistics and charts, but more importantly, tell the stories of those you have helped, use testimonials, and then back those up with the numbers.
#6: Financial Needs – How much money does your organization need to raise? Why does it need to raise that amount (what will it be used for?) Why do you need to raise it now?
#7: Means of Support – Give your reader different ways to support your efforts. Do you have a leadership giving program? Annual giving campaign? Planned giving opportunities? Briefly spell those out here.
Generally, these parts can be included in any order. Thus, while the emotional opening has to come first, if for some reason you think an explanation of your programs should come before the history of your organization then write it that way. The case statement needs to be coherent and make sense for your organization, so don’t get wedded to any one formula.
Likewise, some organizations may find that they need to add additional parts. That’s fine too. Just don’t go overboard. Your case for support is not a “kitchen sink” document… you don’t need to include every little thing in it, just what matters for compelling a donor to get more involved.
Every non-profit I have ever worked with has had a different process for writing its case for support. Some take far too long and set up multiple committees to write and bless the project. Others are far too flippant, and write the case statement almost on a whim. For most organizations, though, I have found the following basic process to be the most effective:
1. Select a Writer – It is important that the organization select one person to “own” the writing process for the case statement. Don’t have different people work on different parts, it almost never works in producing a coherent case for support. Select one person (generally from the staff or an outside consultant) to write the case statement.
2. Determine the Stakeholders – Next, figure out which stakeholders are going to have input into the case for support. These are the people the writer will work with to gather information and ideas for the draft statement. Generally, organizations include some staff members, board members, and often some clients of the organization in this category.
3. Gather Information – The write should then talk with each of the stakeholders to (a) get their take on the mission, vision, programs and other key concepts for the case statement, and (b) to collect data that is needed on things like outcomes, financial needs, etc.
4. Write a First Draft – At this point, the writer creates a first draft of the case for support.
5. Revise the Draft – The organization then holds one or more rounds of revisions by circulating the case statement to the stakeholders that were selected to get their thoughts, ideas, and comments. The executive committee of the board should also be involved in the revision rounds.
6. Vote to Approve the Case Statement – It is my strong suggestion that every organization has its board of directors vote to approve the final version of the case for support, to ensure that the entire organization is behind the final document and understands its importance to the organization.
Generally, your case for support will be between 4-10 pages. That being said, don’t worry about going even longer. You can always pare back the amount of information that is included in donor materials. For example, you may write a 14 page case for support and decide to include the entire thing in your major donor portfolio, but pare it down to a 2 page document for minor donor groups.
Don’t make your case for support too short, however. If your case statement is only 3 pages long, it is highly likely that you are missing compelling and pertinent information.
I’ve heard lots of horror stories from non-profits that took 6 months, 12 months, or even longer to craft their case for support. I believe that taking this long to work on the case statement is unnecessary and counterproductive. It stems from the belief that the writers and stakeholders need to walk on egg shells in creating the document because if its importance to the development of the organization.
The case statement is important, but it is no good to you if it isn’t written. In my view, the entire process of writing your case for support from selecting the writer all the way through approval by the board should take no more than 3 months, and can be completed in as little as 1 month if your non-profit is ambitious.
The most important thing to remember when creating your case for support is the ultimate goal of the document: to cast a vision for prospects that is so compelling that it convinces them to make a gift. If your case statement accomplishes this task, then it is doing its job.