An effective case for support seizes donors by the collar, gripping their minds, their hearts, and inspiring them to open their checkbooks.
Every successful case should contain more than a dozen key elements, as I discuss in my book Making a Case Your Donors Will Love. In this article I’ll focus on three of the most essential.
One suit doesn’t fit all
One case may do the overarching job for several of your constituencies, but for some special groups you’re going to want a piece that focuses exclusively on them.
We did the case for Fisk University, a historically black college. The document had passion, energy, and vision for the future. I was delighted with the results and presented it to the president who read the case and handed it back.
“The grammar is terrible,” he said. I flinched a bit and mentioned that God doesn’t much care about bad grammar. “Maybe so,” the president shot back, “but He doesn’t take any pleasure in it either.”
The president went on to say that “I want people to think of us as a small Harvard right here in Nashville—with the highest quality education and the most scholarly faculty anywhere. Our material has to reflect that.”
The president was absolutely right. I applied my creativity and energy to what I believed would motivate a donor and gave scant thought to how the college would wish to be perceived.
We ended up writing four cases for Fisk, one for the president’s “elite” group of donors, a second for key community leaders, a third for faculty and staff, and a fourth for the alumni.
You might think four cases is overkill, but sometimes it isn’t. Knowing your constituency is part of the secret to success.
Bigger than your organization
A while back we were raising money for the Tampa Museum of Art. The community was asked to provide funds to build a glorious downtown edifice on the Hillsborough River.
The case for this new building was far more compelling than just concrete and steel. For the first time, the museum would be able to invite young people by the busloads. We asked readers to picture those grade school kids lining up at the entrance.
The museum is on a gorgeous site on the river. Think of the positive environmental issues at play. The new building, for example, would enhance the River Walk and would feature local flora and fauna all along the way.
But wait, there’s still more.
The museum would bring thousands of families back into a fatigued downtown and be the centerpiece of a new cultural and arts area. Anyone with a modicum of civic pride had to support this project, regardless of their interest in art.
And, finally, there would be an infusion of money and people for downtown merchants.
You understand the thrust here. All of a sudden the museum project becomes of much greater and magnified significance than simply creating a facility to house more art.
Why should I invest?
I was in Mark’s and Sheila’s living room discussing the independent school their youngster attends in a Boston suburb. He had just finished reading the case.
“I mean this constructively,” he said, “but, Jerry, this case is weak.” Mark’s words become the fingernails on my chalkboard.
For the sake of my pride, I’ll quickly add that this wasn’t my firm’s case. The school’s leadership thought ours was too long, too wordy, and didn’t capture the school’s ethos. They drafted their own ... by committee.
Regardless of its evolution, the case wasn’t acceptable to Mark and Sheila for one key reason: Because it didn’t answer the questions in their and every donor’s mind:
- Why should I invest in this organization? Does its mission align with my objectives?
- Why should I invest in this project? What will be the results?
- Why should I give now? With so many other worthy requests, how urgent is the cause?
- Why me? What’s the reason I’ve been selected to give?
I returned with a new draft that addressed the objections of Mark and Sheila. And I’m happy to report they made a gift of $1.5 million.
Jerold Panas is author of Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, from which this post is adapted; The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards; Asking; and The Fundraiser’s Measuring Stick.