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A guide to writing a compelling case for support

Updated January 25, 2023 by Chris Bicknell

writing a case for support

Writing a “case statement” (AKA “case for support” or “case”) gets mentioned in many trainings, books, and guides as critical to complete before seeking philanthropic support of your organization’s mission. To help you accomplish this goal, this short piece a) gives a quick overview of what “case” means; b) provides simple starter tips on how to generate your “case;” and c) specifies where and when to use your “case” once it is written. We use the terms “case for support,” “case statement,” and “case” interchangeably throughout this article.

Your case for support should use simple, clear, and compelling language to articulate why you’re asking for philanthropic dollars, what level of support you’re asking for, and how that philanthropy will impact your mission. If a donor has heard/read your case and asks you, “why do you need the gift you asked me to give?” you should immediately reexamine and rewrite your case to make sure it is effectively communicating this important information. 

Consider these examples in writing your case statement:

Example 1. No case for support was developed or shared with the donor.

You: “Our organization has set a goal of raising $100,000 this year for our annual fund. Would you consider making a stretch gift of $5,000 to help us reach this goal?”

Donor: “What does the annual fund do for your mission and how will $100,000 advance your mission?”

Example 2. A case for support was developed and shared with the donor.

You: “Based on our experience last year, our organization anticipates needing $100,000 this year to adequately provide food to the people we serve. Last year, our annual fund raised $75,000, and the number of constituents needing food assistance outpaced the available funds. Annual fund contributions are our main source of funding for the food services we provide. We know circumstances have gotten more challenging and demand will be higher, so we’ve increased the annual fund goal to $100,000 this year to better serve those in need. Would you consider making a stretch gift of $5,000 to help us better meet the anticipated needs of our constituency?”

Donor: “I too am very worried about providing to all those who will need food this year. $5,000 is a big gift for me, but I’ll consider your request and get back to you.”

The steps involved in writing your case for support:

Gather the following:

  • Your mission statement and all other strategic materials (strategic plan, vision statement, etc.)
  • Your financial data (financial statements, fund usage, gaps, etc.)
  • Program analysis, reports, etc. (what worked and what didn’t work in the past)
  • Program dreams (don’t limit yourself to materials wish lists; think of these program dreams more broadly)

Sequester yourself for a day with the Executive Director and a key, strategic program leader. If there is resistance to spending this much time, explain that without it you can’t raise the money needed for your mission.

Work until you can answer the following questions to the satisfaction of all present and the anticipated satisfaction of Board and donors alike:

  • What societal/human need does your mission address (be able to say “we are changing or saving lives through our program”)?
  • What progress have you made to date (or where are you right now)?
  • What you need to do between now and X date (multi-year for campaigns, single year for annual fund) is Y (where Y = clear objectives).
  • Why is your organization worthy of increased/sustained investment to help it address the needs?

For specific types of fundraising, answer these questions:

Annual fund: What would you accomplish next year that general/operating financial resources kept you from accomplishing this year?

Program enhancement (restricted): What program outcomes fell short of where they could be with additional resources (e.g., more field trips or additional staff)

Capital improvements: Which physical plant areas or technology prevent your mission from reaching its full potential (or are physically dangerous for your constituents)? What is your plan for addressing these areas over the next 3 to 5 years (with costs for each year)?

Ensure you have solid answers related to financial management:

How does your organization spend unrestricted dollars, which funds do they go in, and what do those funds do?

How does your organization handle restricted dollars (i.e., if I ask for $50,000 for a particular reason and get it, will I have any trouble spending it in accordance with the request?)

If there is an endowment, what are the spending and investment policies?

Note regarding capital campaigns: These may or may not be limited to actual buildings. These campaigns need to be understood as only being needed when the organization is ready for a sizable shift (a major new building, a programmatic change, etc.). It is unlikely that one day would be sufficient time to write a case for support for a major capital campaign; that would need to be a longer process that emerges from a strategic planning effort.

What your end result should be: 

Be sure you have focused on expressing your ideas and answering all questions as clearly as possible. Don’t worry about whether the sentences are perfect at first. Keep it simple and straightforward. A reasonable document length is approximately one page if your case covers just the annual fund, adding a half to a full page for each additional special purpose item.

Where and how to use the case for support:

Use your case statement to guide all of your fundraising. Consult the case as part of rewriting appeal letters. Start with the case as you plan your events (i.e., what does the money from the gala or golf tournament do?). Acknowledgment letters should affirm your case. Adapt pieces of the case to your website around the giving pages or anywhere else you think it will help donors or potential donors understand why their donations are needed to help you better fulfill your mission. Read our article, 5 internal uses for a case statement, for even more ideas.  

Fundamentally, your case for support is the backbone for your fundraising throughout the year.

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