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.

Customer Service – The New Super Power!

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

I admit it.  When it comes to customer service, I’m a stickler.  And when I experience poor customer service?  Let’s just say I can get a little testy. It’s because customer service is so critical to the donor or consumer experience.  When sectors are so crowded with options from which to choose, excellent customer service can power boost your relationships with your donors and clients.  Alternatively, few things can tank a relationship and destroy trust quicker than really poor customer service (Hi airlines!).  Let me give you a few examples from my personal experience to illustrate what I mean.

First, there was the time I went so far as to demand a formal, written apology from a car salesman who called me a b—h and hung up on me after I confronted him on the fact that he slipped into a sales agreement additional fees that I had already declined.  That time, I spent days going all the way up the company’s corporate ladder until I got the response I wanted. And since I’m telling you this story a decade from when it occurred, I clearly held on to this memory – and have made subsequent car buying decisions based on it.

But, the reverse is also true. I also remember great customer service experiences and become a loyal follower and champion of brands that serve me well. I recently had a fantastic customer service experience that illustrates how providing excellent customer service is crucial to keeping your customers or constituents engaged and happy – and will keep them from going anywhere else.

Here’s what happened....

Read more here!

Engaging Donors Part 2 - Or rather, How NOT to Engage Someone

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we miss the mark when we try to engage one of our supporters. I recently had that happen to me. You can read what happened in the link below, as well has find some tips on how to avoid making the same mistakes. How NOT to Engage Someone: Common Mistakes Organizations Make with Potential Supporters

Engaging Donors Part 1

I've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to better engage donors. I've actually spend a lot of time thinking about the topic. In the video below, produced for the Lancaster County Community Foundation's Tech Talks series, I give you a few tips on how to better engage your donors. I hope you find this helpful!

Dani Beam, professional fundraising consultant of DC Beam Consulting shares her insights on building a donor engagement strategy, and outlines some proven tips for cultivating successful fundraising campaigns. For more info and ExtraGive Tech Talks visit!

How to Speak Fundraiser

Recently, my sister who also happens to be a active board member and has served on multiple boards, reminded me that it can be difficult for new board members to learn the nonprofit lingo. Uh oh, I thought.

I know I've been guilty of having barreled through a training without stoping to translate the fundraising language with which I'm so comfortable, but other are not.

Apologies to all of you who might have been a little confused in one of my sessions as I threw around words like cultivation, stewardship, campaign, major donor, recognition and on and on. I will do better in the future. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy a glossary of standard fundraising terms, which you can find here. After reading this, you too, will be able to speak fundraiser.