Part Two: Making the Case for an Annual Case Statement

Great, so you’re on board.  You’ve read Part One of this article and are now convinced that you need an annual case statement STAT.  That’s terrific!  Now the trick is writing the thing.  Below are some tips on how to create a compelling case statement.

Frist, this document doesn’t need to be fancy.  While capital campaign documents are often (and rightfully so) given the graphic design treatment, a case statement for your annual fundraising does not need to be highly stylized or expensive to produce.  In fact, often donors say they would prefer that the organization not spend too much money on communication pieces.  While it doesn’t need to cost a small fortune to produce, it should, however, contain the following elements: 

·      Start with the mission, vision and history of the organization.  You don’t want to assume that the donor knows everything about the organization.  It’s important to state, at the beginning of the document, who you are, what you do and how long you’ve been in existence.  You don’t need to go into great detail on the history of the organization, but do provide enough to demonstrate that you’re stable and credible.

·      Include context.  Where does your organization fit in the broader issue?  What do you do better than anyone else?  Third party research, statements from experts and endorsements from partner organizations can be helpful here.

·      Write a clear statement of the need.  What are you trying to accomplish?  What will it cost?  What is the timeframe?  Financial projections and true costs are extremely valuable here.  You want to demonstrate that you’ve done the research and are certain about the amount of money that is needed and by when it’s necessary to have the funds in hand. If, for example, you want grow your operating budget of a period of years, show the increments and timeframe in which you hope to grow it.

·      Add a compelling story or some other element that showcases your work and supports your goal.  Photos, infographics and testimonials can be useful here.

·      Be sure to have a clear statement of where the donor fits in.  Also known as a call to action, you need to spell out exactly what it is that you want the donor to do.

·      Don’t forget the list of organizational leaders and their contact information.  Ideally, you’ll be reviewing the case in 1:1 conversations with your donors and leaving it with them.  As they consider your request, they’ll likely peruse the case statement again.  It will be beneficial for them to have a list of board members and senior staff.  Include contact information for the organization because they may have follow-up questions, and it’s critical that they can easily get in touch.  This contact information should include your web address as well as any other social media handles.  The donor may want to reach out to a board member that he or she knows to get their insight on the request, so you may want to consider adding contact information for board members as well. 

Second, after you’ve written a strong draft, consider sharing it with a focus group of select donors.  By doing so, you’ll discover whether or not you’re on the right track.  For example, their feedback could tell you that there’s already a great deal of support for what you want to accomplish; They’ve just been waiting to be asked.  On the other hand, you might discover that what seems strongly compelling to program staff is too wonky or not as interesting to donors.  This external feedback will also help you root out jargon or other insider lingo that can create conversation barriers between you and your target audience. 

As I prepared to write this piece, I asked a former client what she found beneficial during the case statement process.  She said that their final case statement was radically different from the original draft they shared with a test audience – and that it was all because of the feedback that was given during a donor focus group. If you want this document to be an effective communication tool, you’d benefit from testing it before sharing it far and wide.

The process for writing a case statement for your annual fundraising needs can be as valuable as the finished product.  This is because the process helps your organization identify and refine its fundraising priorities.  Writing the document forces you to articulate your needs in a concise, cogent, and direct way.  Quantifying your services and pinning down your financial needs will help show you and your donors precisely how their support will be used. 

Sharing it internally will help your program staff understand how fundraising directly impacts the work they do.  Additionally, testing it externally will bring donors into the process with you while also ensuring that you’re on the right track.  These steps leads to a polished, professional document you can be proud to share with your supporters.

Happy Writing!

PS:  Do you need to prompts to get you started?  Get my case statement worksheet here.

Part One: Making the Case for an Annual Case Statement

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 building, 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 raising 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 very important 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 ends 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 its 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 important 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 contain 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.  In order to write a compelling case statement, it is important 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 know what you 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.  Afterall, how many different ways can you says, “Will you give XXX to our annual fund this year?”  Now imagine that conversation with a fresh 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.

·      A 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 hire.  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 were 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 effective as you want it to be.

Gather Together to Give Big: How Online Giving Days Can Be Made Better By Off-Line Events


This is a story about two very different online giving days in two very different communities, and what I learned from seeing them both in action. Like the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big, the Lancaster County Community Foundation in Lancaster, PA has it’s own online giving day, called Extraordinary Give. The premise is much the same.  For twenty-four hours, the foundation provides a percentage match for online donations to local charities. Since Seattle is a much bigger city with a more affluent and internet savvy population, you’re probably guessing that Give Big would be much more successful than the Lancaster’s Extraordinary Give. But that’s not what happened -- what happened was that a small community raised an enormous sum of money.  How they did it is a story worth telling.

Let me explain.  But first, let me give you a little context.  For starters, you might be wondering why a Northwest publication is even talking about a small town in Pennsylvania.  That’s because eight months ago, I transferred myself and my consulting business across the country.  After ten years in Seattle, a city I love like no other, it was time for me to reconnect with my family and my roots.  (Happily, I maintain a toehold in the Pacific Northwest.  And, Emily and Julie are gracious to let me work out my homesickness for Seattle in these pages.)

So yeah, I moved to Lancaster, PA, a city of approximately 60,000 people, less than one-tenth the size of Seattle’s 653,000.  The broader county, also called Lancaster, has a population of more than 500,000 people, 30,000 of whom are Amish, a plain sect that historically refrains for religious reasons from using modern technologies, including computers and the internet.  Comparatively, King County has a total population of well over 2 million.*

The point is, Lancaster County and Lancaster City are much, much smaller than Seattle and King County.  And of the people in Lancaster, a good 5% of them don’t even use the internet.

You might expect, therefore, that their online giving day, Extraordinary Give would provide similarly proportionate results.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead, Lancaster County raised a total of $6.2 million from the 500,000 or so people who actually use the internet.   That’s nearly 40% of the $16.2 million that was raised in last year’s Give Big!

So what was the difference? There are a few differences between the two days, such as the fact that most of the matching funds in Lancaster come from local businesses, not individual donors, and that Extraordinary Give takes place at the end of November, instead of in the spring.  But the biggest difference between Extraordinary Give and Give Big is the way in which the local community has rallied around the initiative.


The Lancaster community completely embraced this day of “online giving” by creating face-to-face events and activities throughout the county.  These events prompted people to turn out in support of their favorite nonprofits and hang out with one another.  Making a donation online almost became an afterthought.  Here are just a few examples of the ways the people of Lancaster transformed the simple act of filling out an online donation form into a day of community pride, engagement and philanthropy:

  • Hundreds of nonprofits took advantage of the Lancaster County Community Foundation sponsored series of trainings where non-profit leaders, at very low cost, learned how to use social media to reach bigger audiences and increase support. I provided one of those trainings and you can watch the summary of that training
  • The Lancaster County Community Foundation had a “Giving Mobile” that drove around around town, creating online giving stations and providing help for those folks who are unaccustomed to making online donations.
  • Nonprofits created their own events that tied into the day. For example, a private school put on a talent show, during which they passed iPad through the audience so that gifts could be made.  They provided updates during intermission and at the end of the show.
  • Another nonprofit used the day as an opportunity to host an open house where its new CEO was introduced. Guests were invited to make online donations in honor of the new CEO.
  • Lancaster City businesses partnered with nonprofits by hosting a number of activities throughout the day, including live music, food and drink, and dance parties.
  • One organization recruited their older donors who prefer to write checks to create a matching fund to further match the online donations, thereby making sure all of their donors could participate, regardless of their comfort level with the internet.


Sure, it could be argued that Lancaster is doing it backwards. That instead of embracing the opportunity for individuals to quietly make donations from the privacy and comfort of their own computers, they created a massive amount of extra work in staging hundreds of events and outreach activities throughout the area.  To be honest, I thought that, too.  That was before I saw the plan in action. 

Because what I saw was magical.  I saw a community modify a fundraising tool to fit its unique culture.  I saw a community that likes events, that has an older, tech adverse population and that recognizes the amount of donor overlap between local nonprofits. Together, they created something that embraced those unique aspects of their community.  Of course, there were still donors who made online donations from the privacy and comfort of their own computers.  There were more donors, however, who were hopping from event to event and who were cheering each other on as they navigated the online giving form for the first time.  And yes, there were some nonprofits who kept all of their Extraordinary Give activities online.  There were many others, however, who displayed their programs proudly through public activities and who shared space with one another because they genuinely believed that Extraordinary Give was a day of celebration and support for all the nonprofits in the county. Not just their own.

As you, Seattle, prepare for Give Big, I invite you to take a play from the Lancaster playbook.  Assess what is unique about your group of donors and create something for Give Big that, in addition to all the online promotion at which you already excel, gives your particular giving community the opportunity to celebrate and support you by gathering together.

And then let me know what happens.  I bet it will be big.  I bet it will be extraordinary.

*I got these numbers off the internet, which never lies.  Just in case, however, the internet was having an off day, please use these figures as a frame of reference in comparing the general size of each community, not exact or even accurate numbers.