Consulting | May 20, 2019

How to Create Compelling Case Statements: What You Need and When

Just as all nonprofit organizations need a mission statement and (ideally) have a strategic plan, they need to be able to articulate to donors why they need financial support and what gifts will be used for. This is your case for support. If your organization has ever written a grant, you have the start of a case for support. You’ve probably had to answer questions about who you are, what you do, and why you need financial support. That’s exactly what your case for support includes.

What’s the difference between a case for support and a case statement? A case for support is typically an internal document that is used to create a variety of other public-facing documents. A case statement is one of those public-facing documents. Case statements are common for fundraising campaigns, such as capital and major gift campaigns. They incorporate visuals to paint a picture for prospective donors of what can be accomplished with their gifts.

Stephanie Cory, consultant with PANO’s Consultant Collaborative, recently worked with a member organization to develop a case statement. The case statement was designed to support solicitation efforts for the second phase of an ambitious capital campaign to upgrade the organization’s facilities. The result was a full-color, four-page document that:

  • Told the story of what the organization accomplishes today
  • Illustrated the current state of the facilities
  • Shared renderings of what the facilities could be through a capital campaign
  • Told the story of what the organization could be after raising the funds through the capital campaign

The process began with interviewing key staff to learn about the organization and campaign goals. Stephanie reviewed existing collateral material supplied by the organization to get a sense of brand and voice so that the case statement blended with the website and other supporting materials. While many capital and major gift campaigns are branded separately, campaign materials should still reflect the organization’s brand. Next, she created a draft case statement and shared it with staff for review and revisions. Once the language was approved, Stephanie incorporated images and colors to design the case statement. After a few go-arounds with some design tweaks, the case statement was ready to print and share with donors.

A benefit to working with a consultant to help develop your case for support – or your case statement – is the advantage of an outside perspective. You, your staff, and your board are so familiar with your organization that you may not realize that how you talk about your organization doesn’t always resonate with others – namely, your current and potential donors. You know your programs intimately, so perhaps you gloss over key details that those farther from your inner circles need to understand your work.

Another shortcoming of many cases for support and case statements is too much of a focus on organizational history. It’s important to add credibility by including how long your organization has been serving the community and a basic evolution of your programs, but that’s usually sufficient. Prospective donors are more concerned with where you are now and where you can go with their help.

When you are writing about what you do, watch out for jargon and acronyms. Super-long proper noun names can be a mouthful but will offer more clarity to an outsider than an acronym. You want to make sure your document is as easy as possible for readers to understand. Even if you don’t engage the services of a consultant, ask individuals not familiar with the organization to read what you create and explain to you what they think the document says.

Once you’ve covered some basic history and a description of what your organization does to improve your community, focus on what makes your organization uniquely qualified to succeed at the work it does. You need to be clear on why you are the best organization to address the issue. This is your opportunity to really sell your organization; it’s not a time to be overly humble.

Make sure you include what funds are needed for. Be specific. As important as general operating revenue is to all nonprofit organizations, think like a donor. What specific ways could a donor’s gift make a difference to your organization and those you serve? What goals can donors help your organization accomplish? How can they help you make the community a better place?

To the extent you can, make your case urgent. Tell donors why you need help now. Don’t be afraid to give examples of what could happen to those you serve if your organization isn’t able to help them. This is where a story of one can be much more compelling than a story of many. Consider an example of one program recipient and go into detail instead of trying to share shockingly large numbers to show who you serve. Behavioral economics principles tell us that we are more likely to feel like we can have an impact to help a few versus being overwhelmed by the many we couldn’t possibly help.

As far as looks go, use an easy-to-read font that is large enough for older eyes. Remember that white space is your friend and think about the purpose for the photos you include. Crop photos appropriately so only the most important elements are included, and distracting background elements are removed. Photos of people should, to the extent possible given the population you serve, show positive, uplifting images versus those of people in distress. Make sure to have appropriate photo releases for whomever you use in your images.

If your organization doesn’t have the resources for a professionally written and designed case statement, you can still create one that will help your fundraising. Online tools such as Canva provide many options for design and layout and make it easy to create professionally designed documents.

Whether you need a glossy, donor-ready case statement or your next step is merely compiling what you say about your organization into a comprehensive case for support, the time you invest is worth it. Your case for support will be a helpful basis for so much of your organization’s communication with donors and prospective donors.

PANO’S Consultant Collaborative

At PANO, we believe that together we can create something better than any single organization can build separately. The PANO Consultant Collaborative connects nonprofit organizations with experienced, like-minded professional consultants to increase efficacy and impact through collaborative, needs-based counsel. Each consultant brings a unique experience, specialization, and abilities to the group, which makes for a diverse and innovative approach to each project.

If your organization is looking for a consultant to help take your mission to the next level, from developing a case statement to strategic planning and everything in between, check out PANO’s Consultant Collaborative.

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