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how to write a case for support


Why are you raising money? If you can’t effectively answer that question with an elevator pitch that will grab a stakeholder’s attention, then you likely need to work on your case for support. In the charitable sector, there are contrasting opinions of what a case for support is, and how it should be built. Is it internal or external? Is it a general case or is it specifically for a campaign? Do you keep it long or short? Do you involve stakeholders? Do you stick to compelling text or focus more on data? Is it a case for support or case statement? Very confusing!

Let’s keep things really simple.

In our opinion, being successful at fund development comes down to two things; prioritizing donor relations and great storytelling.

Your organization’s case for support is how you tell your story – why you exist, how your work makes an impact and why you need to raise money. Every organization’s situation is different which means their cases will differ – if you’re relatively new, you’d want to consider involving your community (alumni, prospective donors etc.) in building your case. If you’re heading into a major campaign, you’ll need a case outlining your financial needs, but wherever you are, you need to tell your story. So where do you start? With identifying the need - what is needed and why is it needed?

First things first.

A case for support is defined as a concise, donor (and prospective donor) centered document that articulates both the needs of an organization and why it merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs and future plans. The case needs to be both rational and emotional, must demonstrate need but not show desperation. It must display urgency by warming the heart and triggering the mind of the reader.

Typically, you’ll start with creating an internal case (usually between 2-7 pages). Your internal case will guide all of your content for your website, newsletters, solicitations, grant proposals, conversations with donors AND an external case. This external case is what you want to share with your stakeholders – it needs to be visually captivating: full of imagery, powerful quotes, interesting facts and you should throw in an infographic for good measure.

Getting down to it.

There are specific elements that are critical to any great case. Jerold Panas outlines eight of them:

1. The Title

The title develops the theme and tone of the entire case. Don’t hold back in this section-make it dramatic. The title’s job is to capture the attention of the reader and get them to continue to flip the page.

2. Seizing the Reader

This is where your introductory paragraphs come in. It is the building of a bridge between these paragraphs and the rest of your case. This is where you usually capture or lose a reader. Consider using a compelling quote (possibly from a volunteer or beneficiary). Write this portion with a leading tone. “Come with me”. Bring them into the experiences of your organization.

3. The Irrefutable Case

Here you describe the need and reason for urgency. It is important to make the case bigger and even more significant than your organization – what are you trying to solve? In this section you must demonstrate why your case is relevant and most importantly that it is urgent. Make this section dramatic and emotional to draw the reader in.

4. Your Unique Position

This section describes your organization’s unique position to tackle the issues discussed in the case. Explain how your institution is uniquely positioned to meet the need head-on. Exemplify that no other organization touches lives the way you do.

5. Waving the Flag

Here is where you describe the strength of your organization; it’s history and mission.

6. Reinforcing the Urgency

This is the part where you reinforce the urgency - that the issue cannot wait. Focus on the people you serve and not your organization in this section. I.e. “Every 40 seconds we lose a child to malaria. We cannot wait….”

7. Making It Happen

This part describes what will be required financially to address the need. Price tags are typically only included in a specific campaign case for support, otherwise leave them out and encourage prospective donors to learn more about funding opportunities by getting in touch.

8. The Benediction

This is the closing to your case. The theme, that has been used throughout is used one more time with emphasis. This could be the closing to a story you are telling, or inviting stakeholders to join the journey.

Before you consider you draft complete, go through it again and make sure that it has answered the following:

  • Who is the organization and what does it do?

  • Why does it exist?

  • What is distinctive about the organization?

  • What must be accomplished?

  • How will this campaign enable it to be accomplished?

  • How can the donor become involved?

  • What's in it for the donor-i.e., why should they give to this effort

Closing the Loop.

You’re almost there, just a few more important things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid being too internally focused: you are writing this case for your donors and other stakeholders – not your internal audience.

Pro tip: People don’t want to hear about you, but rather who you are helping.

  • Is it easy to understand? Everyone from your donors to your receptionist need to be very clear on what exactly it is that your organization does.

Pro tip: You don't ever want to be caught with someone - especially staff and volunteers - who can't clearly explain what and how you do your work!

  • It is never fully complete: you never want to go to a donor with a fully cooked plan. Donors love to be involved in the process which ultimately strengthens their engagement, so bring them a near complete version and ask them for feedback.

Pro tip: If you want money, ask for advice.

Oftentimes the best way to write a case is to read and review other ones. Expand your research beyond your own sector and make notes of elements that you like from your search, incorporating a variety of best practices as you go. Here are a few examples to get you started.

General Cases:

University of Calgary Dinos Case For Support

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos International Case Statement

Boston University Athletics Case Statement

College of Charleston - Boundless

Rowing Australia - Creating Excellence Through Rowing

Campaign-Specific Cases:

Fairfield University Athletics' Impact 2017

Harvard School of Public Health Campaign Case Statement

Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Capital Campaign: Case Statement

MSU Athletics Case for Support

Additional Examples from Tom Ahern

Ps. as you can see, you can call it whatever you'd like! Have we missed anything? Do you know of a great case that should be highlighted? Let us know!