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A quick guide to writing a compelling case statement

Posted May 19, 2017 by Chris Bicknell

tips for writing your case for support

Nearly every training, instructional book, web page, etc. starts out with the idea that before you dive into the strategies and tactics of asking for monetary support of your mission you need to develop a “case for support” or “case statement.” This short piece is written to give you a quick overview of a) what ‘case’ means; b) simple, starter tips on how to generate your ‘case;’ and c) where and when to use your ‘case’ once it is written. We will use the terms “case for support” and “case statement” interchangeably throughout this article.

Your Case for Support should use simple, clear and compelling language to articulate what the financial resources you intend to ask people to give you will help you accomplish. Your Case should answer the question ‘why do you need the gift you asked me for?’ If a donor has to ask you that question you’ve not succeeded in composing your Case. Here a couple examples of language asking for support (both could come out of your Case for Support work but the first is most likely the result of not having done the work to prepare a Case for Support):

Not good: 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 in support of this goal?

Analysis: If I’m a donor, you have just told me my stretch gift will help you meet your organizational goal of raising a certain amount of money. You have told me nothing about how my philanthropy will help you achieve the philanthropic goals I believe in.

Good: Based on our experience last year, our organization identified that properly providing food to the people who seek it from us will require an additional $25,000 in our Annual Fund. Last year, our Annual Fund raised $75,000 and number of constituents needing food assistance outpaced those resources by nearly $15,000. We know things have gotten worse and demand will be higher so we’ve increase the Annual Fund goal to $100,000. Would you consider making a stretch gift of $5,000 to help us better meet the needs of our growing constituency?

Analysis: Now I know that a) you are an organization that cares about your mission (rather than your financial goals) because you’ve explained how last year there wasn’t enough money to serve the people you exist to serve; b) you’re an organization that analyzes your work and makes a conscientious effort to anticipate future needs of your constituents; and c) I know my stretch gift is being asked for because my philanthropic goals of feeding people aren’t being met with my current level of giving.

The steps involved in writing your Case Statement:

  • 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 as broader than that)
  • Sequester yourself for a day with the Executive Director and a key, strategic, program leader. If there is resistance to giving this much time explain that without it you can’t raise money.
  • Work until you can answer, to the satisfaction of all present and anticipated satisfaction of Board and donor alike, the following questions:
    • What societal/human need does your mission address (be able to say “we are changing or saving lives through our program”)?
    • What progress have we made to date (or, where are we right now)?
    • What do we need to do between now and X date (multi-year for campaigns, single year for annual fund) is Y (clear objectives).
    • Why is your organization worthy of increased/sustained investment to help it address the needs?
    • Specifically for a few types of fund raising:
      • For Annual Fund: What would we like to accomplish next year that general/operating financial resources kept us from accomplishing this year? How much would we need to close the gap?
      • For Program Enhancement (restricted): What program outcomes fell short of where they could be with additional resources (e.g. more field trips or additional staff).
      • For Capital Improvements: Which physical plant areas detract from our mission reaching its full potential (or are physically dangerous for our constituents)? What is our plan for addressing these areas over the next 3-5 years (with costs for each year)?
      • Often a key here is having a really good plan dedicated to your organization’s physical plant and anticipated needs.
      • Related to this is often a technology plan.

Ensure you have solid answers related to financial management:

  • How does my organization spend unrestricted dollars, which funds do they go in and what do those funds do?
  • How does my 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 policies related to spending from it and investing it?

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 major shift (a major new building, a programmatic change, etc.). It is unlikely that one day would be sufficient for a Case for Support for a major Capital Campaign; that really needs to be a longer process coming out of an organizational strategic planning effort.

End result. 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 or the words exquisite, keep it simple and straightforward. Most likely you will want to end up with about a page maximum on the general organization and then dedicate half to a full page on each ‘fund’ or area of fundraising.

Where and how to use the Case for Support:

Use your Case Statement as the guiding document for all fundraising. Consult the Case as part of re-writing the Annual Appeal. Start with the Case as you plan your fundraising events (i.e. what does the money from the Gala or Golf Tournament do anyway?). Adapt pieces of it to your website around the giving pages or anywhere else you think it will help people better understand why their donations are needed and what they will accomplish when they give them to you.

Fundamentally, your Case for Support is the backbone for all of your fund raising materials (thank you letters too) and pitches throughout the year.

Other resources:

There are so many ways to find valuable information on helping you craft your Case for Support. Here are just a few:

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