Fundraising Success: Developing Your Case for Support

Case1There are four steps involved in fundraising: 1) Plan 2) Plan 3) Plan, and; 4) ASK! – Hank Rosso

What is a Case for Support?

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Dictionary defines a case for support as “the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs, and plans.”  In short, it tells the story of your nonprofit to your constituents and is a general argument for why your organization deserves gift support.

Why Does My Organization Need a Case for Support?

Soliciting a donation without adequate planning is very likely to result in a “no”, or at least in a smaller gift that neither matches the donor’s capacity nor the organization’s needs.  Planning and preparing your organizational case for support requires an understanding of basic marketing principles – the document isn’t solely based on your organization’s needs – you don’t “sell the need”.  Rather, you’re advancing a compelling solution to a community problem.  Consequently, your case for support is developed based upon your organization’s ability to demonstrate that a community need exists and how the organization intends to contribute to the solution. Your job, essentially, is to identify all of the reasons a donor should make a gift to your organization.

What are the Building Blocks of a Case for Support?

Generally, the case for support is comprised of components or resources, which provide all of the information a donor might want to know about your nonprofit organization.  For many small organizations, such resources may need to be developed “from scratch” if they don’t already exist.  Don’t let that prevent you from investing the sweat equity to do it – the payoff will be well worth your time.  Think of the components as the building blocks from which the case for support is developed.  When completed, your case resources folder will contain the following components, which should immediately available, accurate, and current:

Mission Statement: Probably the briefest component, explaining why your nonprofit exists.

GoalsCase3Statements identifying what the nonprofit organization wants to accomplish while it solves the problems described in the mission statement.

Objectives: Differ from goals in specificity of language; they describe precise results.

Programs and Services: Descriptions of how your organization carries out its objectives in meeting the goals that fulfill the mission.

Finances:  The financial documents included in the case for support should present a concise and clear picture of incoming and outgoing revenue.

Governance:  How is your nonprofit governed?  Who comprises the board of directors? Include full dossiers and brief bio sketches.

Staffing: The staff represents the breadth and depth of organizational professionalism, competence, and integrity and inspires confidence in your donor base.  As with board members, include full dossiers and brief bio sketches.

Service Delivery:  Describe the facilities and mechanisms for delivering your programs and services.

Planning and Evaluation: Describe the short- and long-term planning processes used by your organization, placing emphasis on program planning.

History: The history of your nonprofit organization, emphasizing accomplishments and achievements and avoiding a lot of (forgettable) data.

What Key Questions Get the Process Started?

You should also reflect upon a few critical organizational questions in building your case for support.  It’s actually a great idea to review these questions annually with key staff and board members as a “check in” to ensure that everybody’s on the same proverbial page with regard to the ‘who, what, why, when, and how’ of your organization:

1)    Who are we?

2)    Why do we exist?

3)    What is unique about our organization?

4)    What do we want to accomplish?

5)    How do we intend to accomplish it?

6)    How will we hold ourselves accountable?

7)    What would happen if our organization ‘went away’? Put another way, What critical services or needs would go unmet in your community?

How Can You Use a Case Statement?

In addition to your organization’s case for philanthropic support (i.e., an internal case), you can also use the components to order and present information for communications, public relations, and social media; this is commonly referred to as an external case.   The external case can articulate your organization’s cause in the form of communication pieces such as the following:

•     Brochures

•     Foundation/public grant proposals

•     Direct Mail Letters

•     Website Content

•     Press Releases

•     Newsletter Articles

•     Presentations

•     In-Person Solicitations

Everybody, including board members, staff, and key volunteers, must understand that although it’s self-evident from the inside why your organization is valuable and worthwhile, that message must be unambiguously stated in a way that those from the outside can understand why the organization has a philanthropic need and why it deserves support.  To accomplish that task in the most compelling way, Seiler (2001) recommends answering these ten questions:

1)    What is the problem or social need that is central to our mission?

2)    What special services or programs do we offer to respond this need?

3)    Why are the problem and our responses to it (program or services) important?

4)    Who makes up the market for our services (who benefits)?

5)    Are others doing what we are doing to serve our service market, and perhaps doing it better?

6)    Do we have a written plan with a statement of philosophy, objectives, and a program?

7)    What are the specific financial needs for which we are seeking private gift support?

8)    Is our organization competent (in governance, staffing, and service delivery) to carry out the defined program?

9)    Who are the people associated with the organization; staff, key volunteers, and trustees or directors?

10) Who should support the organization? How can these people make gifts, and what are the benefits to them of making a gift?

Case 2What Case Qualities Pique Donor Interest?

Your goal in developing a case for support is ultimately to lead a donor toward a decision to give your organization a gift – so make it inspiring, exciting, meaningful, and give it a sense of urgency.  Not only that, don’t over-emphasize the ‘gloom and doom’ aspect of the need – tell your donors why your organization is a bright spot in the situation – why you’re committed to doing something to solve the problem.  After all, people want to be a part of a solution, not a part of a problem.  Geographic proximity typically interests donors, as does relevancy to one’s own life circumstances.  Lastly, include a ‘sense of the future’ in your case.  Your organization probably isn’t going to end homelessness in your community tomorrow, so be sure to articulate how your organization commits itself to addressing the ongoing problem in the future.  In sum, your case should position your organization as a problem-solver in meeting community needs.

How Often Should We Review and Re-Evaluate Our Case for Support?

Review your case for support annually – perhaps at your board retreat.  The process of reexamination validates your organization’s contribution to your community and the underscores the excellent work you’re doing on behalf of your constituents.

Examples of Nonprofit Cases of Support

I found some wonderfully effective, well-written cases of support that you may want to review as you develop your own document.

Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations

Light of Life Rescue Mission

Children’s Discovery Museum

McGill University

Friends of MacArthur State Park

Case4Reference:  Developing Your Case for Support, by Timothy L. Seiler, 2001. Published by Jossey-Bass, 192 pages.   Copies are available on a print-on-demand basis for $33.00 and can be ordered here.  This is one of the best investments you’ll make in your organizational fundraising capacity – a great deal!

Cheryl M. McCormick, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Ascend Nonprofit Consulting and Executive Coaching,


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