It may sound obvious, but when you’re trying to raise money for your organization, whether it’s for a specific initiative or program, or to support your overarching organizational strategy, you need to have a compelling story to convince donors to invest in your cause. Too often, organizations begin conversations with donors before they’ve developed an engaging narrative anchored in a credible plan. In fundraising terms: a Case for Support.

Cases for Support are typically highly visual publications with evocative images, hard-hitting statistics and graphs, pointed key messages and captivating storytelling to help your organization engage with prospective donors and advocates. They are a powerful way to share your strengths, story and impact with the community while outlining the urgency of your need.

Cases come in all sizes and formats, from a fold-out pamphlet to a multi-paged document. Some include video portions. They can outline several engagement strategies or focus on just one. The style will be largely driven by the scope of the ask. If you’re launching a capital campaign to raise millions of dollars, chances are your case will be an impressive, high-level publication destined for the hands of select prospective donors. If, on the other hand, you’re asking people to participate in a bottle drive, a pamphlet will likely suffice.

What’s critical to remember, no matter your end goal, is that the process of developing a case is just as important as the final product. It may seem long and daunting, but the more input you encourage from critical stakeholders, the more legitimacy your case accrues. These are the people who will answer the fundamental questions percolating in every donor’s mind: who are you, why do you matter, what do you want, how will you use my money and, if I’m still reading by now, how can I get involved?

Going through the often-laborious journey of answering these questions strengthens your organization as well. It helps your team think through what you are raising money for and why. And it ensures everyone thoroughly understands your mission and can speak to it coherently and consistently.

Think of it as though you were planning a trip to somewhere you’ve never been. You may be excited by the idea of a successful vacation, but chances are you wouldn’t just cross your fingers, buy a ticket and hope it turns out okay. You would research where to stay, plan what to do, and calculate how much it will cost, all while keeping the desired overall experience in mind.

Developing a case is similar. The more input, strategic planning and operational consistency you have at the outset, the more convincing and powerful a case you’re going to make. Writing a case in the absence of these tenents is no short cut, as it will likely end up being a time-consuming, costly and potentially ineffective exercise in frustration.

Before you start developing a case, make sure you have a clear organizational mission, vision, business plan and fundraising strategy .

By having the following conversations within your organization, you’ll be better positioned to develop a strong, compelling case, no matter the ask:

1.Why should people give to your organization?

There are more than 80,000 charities in Canada working to create a safer, more beautiful world for us all. They aim to better our society, improve people’s lives, foster better health and ensure accessibility of services for all. So why, amongst all the options, should a donor choose you?

The truth of the matter is, not everyone will relate to your mission and your cause. Knowing your audience will help you determine how best to demonstrate your strengths.

Consider the following:

  • Your history of success
    How long has your organization existed? What have you done that is notable? What impact have you had in the community? What has improved or changed due to your work? What would happen if you were no longer there?
  • Your credibility
    What makes you an expert in the area in which you need support? Who have you aligned with to further your impact? Think of agencies, collaborators, government bodies, industry groups or others who help you deliver your outcomes and whether these partnerships make you more credible.

2. What is the vision for your organization?

Your vision needs to provide prospective funders with their own opportunity to effect change. Draw a picture of the future for them with an eye to how your organization will make life different or better for people who need your help. This can include your strategic plan as well as the identified goals of your business plan(s).

Consider also:

  • How will philanthropy support your vision? What will philanthropic investment enable?
  •  Is everyone in your organization aligned and familiar with the vision – your Board, leadership team, staff, members and volunteers?

3.    How much do you need and where are the dollars coming from?

This is the crux of the ask. Remember, you will eventually be sending reports to your donors on how their funds have been used. Having a clear idea of your needs will help ensure donors are investing in projects that align with what’s important to them and the organization. It will also make it easier to speak to the value of the gift once the outcomes have been realized.

Make sure you understand:  

  • The total amount of the project and whether philanthropy is required to fund it in its entirety. If not, what other sources of funds will leverage a donor’s investment?
  • How will funds be used? What are the funding requirements for capital, programs, endowments and other needs?
  • Is there a time frame for the need?

4.    How can I help?

If you’re like me, you believe most people are intrinsically good. We want to help each other. There is often a driving force behind people’s good deeds that’s different for everyone. Perhaps it’s the memory of a loved one or a personal experience with suffering and struggle. No matter the compulsion, funders want to understand the role they will play in future change and see how their involvement will make a difference in someone else’s life. And the bigger the ask, the more engaged they will likely want to be.

This proof of a donor’s impact needs to be accessible. To this end, be clear about your fundraising initiatives and the different ways people can engage:

  • Events and direct response campaigns are great strategies to raise unrestricted (or less restricted) funds and offer opportunities for donors at all levels of giving to contribute.
  • Major gifts are often given to more specific projects or areas of interest, that is, funding that is designated to an area of the charity’s mission.
  • Partnerships and sponsorships combine business with philanthropy, offering each organization an opportunity to work together to further their mandate.

5.    What impact will donors see from their investment and how will they be recognized?

The potential to make a difference is what separates philanthropy from other investments. It’s the opportunity to do something meaningful to help others and support a community.

Answers to the following will help paint an effective picture:

  • Who will benefit and how? This can be both individuals and the community as a whole.
  • How will philanthropy lead to improvement? Will it be lasting?
  • How many will benefit?

 A Case for Support allows you share your story with the community while also explaining the urgent need for donations. It is emotive, meant to spark passion within potential donors who will come to your aid.

You may already know in your heart how your organization changes people’s lives. You may understand the impact your work has on the community and its future. The trick is to find a succinct and powerful way to turn your truth into a tool that can bring more donors into the fold. By working with your staff, members and volunteers to understand the answers to these questions, you will be well on your way towards creating a Case for Support that will help secure a more sustainable future for the people you serve.