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Be Compelling to Prospective Donors: How to Write a Case for Support

by Ann C. Fitzgerald
August 27, 2010

When fundraisers embark on a campaign to raise money for a new building or a major project, they often start by writing a case for support.

The case for support, or case statement, is a marketing and fundraising tool that explains in an urgent and compelling manner why someone should support the campaign. It answers the prospective donor’s questions about the nonprofit organization, the project, and the cost. And it does so in a way that connects the donor emotionally to a grander vision.

But a case for support should not be reserved just for a capital campaign. It has many more uses for a nonprofit organization. That is because a case statement does what all your fundraising communication should do: It gets the donor’s attention and spurs the donor to action by answering the questions: Why is this project or issue important? What must be done now? Why is your organization qualified to carry out the work?

For example, a case statement can be:

• Incorporated into a presentation to motivate a major donor to fund a specific project;

• Employed as the basis of a proposal to a grantmaking foundation;

• Used for generating ideas for direct mail pieces;

• Integrated into print and electronic communications to donors; or

• Turned into an appeal for annual support.

Best of all, a basic case for support does not have to take long to complete. Many elements that will make up the case are readily available in the form of annual reports and donor communications.

In Seeing through a Donor’s Eyes, author Tom Ahern offers helpful advice for crafting different types of case statements. He also emphasizes the importance of conducting face-to-face interviews with the key stakeholders in a campaign. This step could include anyone from the board chairman to the constituent being served.


Outline of a Case Statement

In addition to interviews, the starting point for a case statement is your organization’s strategic plan. Michael Allison and Jude Kaye, authors of Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations, define strategic planning as “a systematic process through which an organization agrees on—and builds commitment among key stakeholders to—priorities which are essential to its mission and responsive to the operating environment.” By basing your case statement on your strategic plan, you will ensure that your board of directors and management share the same objectives.

A case for support can be written as a narrative but should encompass these elements:

• Vision Statement. A vision describes what success would look like if an organization fulfills its mission or carries out the project defined in the case statement. The vision statement should be lofty but grounded in reality. For example, The Heritage Foundation’s vision is “to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish.”

Mission Statement. All nonprofit organizations have mission statements, but make sure that yours clearly explains your purpose for existing, what you do, and the customers you serve.

• Outline of Problem(s). This is the heart of the case statement. If the problems are not clearly defined, then the solutions will not make sense. Consider the problems from an economic, political, social, and historical perspective. What makes them urgent and relevant today? Why should the donor care?

• Intended Solutions. Generally, what short- and long-term solutions will address the problem or problems described? For example, if a problem is a lack of quality education among low-income children, then a solution may be improved access to quality education through choice, competition, and accountability.

• Qualifications of the Organization. Explain why your organization is qualified to carry out this work. The explanation may include the group’s history; its growth over time; the knowledge, skills, and experience of key staff; or the people who serve on the board of directors.

• Plans. This element is where you describe the specific programs for which you require funding. You should outline your goals as well as tactical steps and timelines. Using the education example, one part of your plan may be to establish a policy center to research education reform options and advocate for public policy changes.

• Tangible and Intangible Benefits. Consider how the project will benefit the cause, the community, your organization, and the donor.

• Biographies of Key Staff and Board Members. Briefly describe the people who are affiliated with your organization and who will be involved in the implementation of various plans.

• Endorsements. Gather endorsements of your organization from influential stakeholders to demonstrate your impact.

• Detailed Budget. Once you have captured the donor’s attention on an emotional level, you will need to follow up with the more practical details of what the project will cost. A detailed budget demonstrates that you have a solid business plan in place to accomplish your goals.

• Call to Action. Explain the number of gifts you need and at which amounts.

• Ways to Give. Include all the ways that a donor may make a gift to this project. Options may include one-time cash gifts, multi-year pledges, or bequests.

• Recognition Opportunities. Capital campaigns often provide donors with naming opportunities for significant gifts. But even smaller projects can offer recognition to donors. For instance, a supporter at a certain level could be listed in your annual report.

Once these pieces are together, the case—or parts of it—can be employed for different uses from grant proposals to presentations to individual donors. In every instance, however, it should get the donor’s attention, tell a story that includes a problem and a solution, and then offer a call to action.

While there are many ways to approach writing a case for support, it does not have to be a daunting task reserved for a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Most likely, you have the information, ideas, tools, and talent you need to start writing today. Good luck!


Ms. Fitzgerald is President of A.C. Fitzgerald & Associates LLC. A.C. Fitzgerald & Associates (www.acfitzgerald.com) is a national consulting firm providing business solutions for nonprofit organizations.


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