The ideas below are designed to help you shape your fundraising proposition – often expressed as a case for support – and make sure it is organised for maximum impact on the prospect or donor. Although the focus is on written cases, the same principles apply to anyone preparing for a one-to-one meeting, drafting an email, or shaping a PowerPoint presentation.
A case for support is the core document explaining how supporters – prospective or present – might support your fundraising strategy. It explains to potential supporters what you need money for and what the benefits will be to the beneficiaries, if donors help your cause. A case is often written by an external consultant, or sometimes one or more members of your team. There is some data to suggest that having an external person to write your case is useful – it gives you a more objective assessment of your ideas and their impact. Either way it should be designed to engage internal and external stakeholders in your work or campaign.
A case is powerful and effective if it is:
Once written, the case is often used as the source for other communications such as brochures, proposals, presentations and even speeches at events. It will therefore form an important part of your fundraising toolkit.
For your case to be successful it needs to appeal to a number of different stakeholders. (We’re using stakeholder to describe the range of parties and individuals involved and interested in your organisation.)
Cases are often thought of as just for external stakeholders – donors or prospects, in particular. But they need to address internal stakeholders too. So the person who answers your switchboard might not appear to be very important in the great scheme of things. But the way they respond to prospects calling in could make a massive difference to your success. So the case should impact on internal stakeholders – including that vital person who answers the phone – on how to respond to donor queries and challenges.
Different stakeholder groupings have different needs and concerns. Sometimes these needs and concerns are not directly about the cause itself – but about how they can get involved, what you expect of them and what they expect of you. For your case to have influence you need to ensure your case answers these questions.
In our experience there are three key problems in the way many cases are currently written by fundraisers:
There’s no one right way to develop a case. It will end up existing in several forms – a longer version with detailed data and analysis, and a shorter pithier one that encapsulates the central idea. For example, we wrote a 30-page document for a disability charity in the UK covering five sophisticated ‘vision propositions’ for people with the disability. It was a cogent, careful case mostly aimed at foundations and institutional donors. The work took several months – and drew on the experience of focus groups and interviews with staff, users and other stakeholders. The result was a detailed, closely argued case backed by a robust budget. Then one day we had an urgent call from the Campaign Director. We met with her in a coffee bar the same afternoon. She needed something different. Together we wrote the six-line version she wanted for a key networker to use at a reception for potential individual prospects being hosted by the Prime Minister at a No. 10 reception that evening. This version was the equivalent of a movie studio elevator pitch designed to raise ‘big money’ from an investor between floors 3 and 7.
A case should be translated not just into different forms but also into a series of differently targeted messages designed to reach a variety of donors and supporters with different preferences. At =mc we’ve developed a framework to help you do this which we’ve used successfully with many of our customers – from a gallery raising $50M for a Renaissance painting, to an international children’s charity raising $500M across 27 countries to provide education for children in conflict zones.
The framework assumes that all cases can be based around two psychologically dimensions:
If you put these dimensions together in all the possible combinations, you have four choices that can be put in a matrix:
This combination provides you with a way to present your case in a range of ways that relate to the psychology of different donors.
A positive present: i.e. an opportunity. This:
–has a relatively short time horizon
–is about a positive outcome
A negative present: i.e. a crisis. This:
–also has a relatively short time horizon
–is about a negative outcome
A positive future: i.e. a vision. This:
–encourages the donor to think far ahead
–is about a positive outcome
A negative future: i.e. a risk. This:
–also encourages the donor to think far ahead
–is about a negative outcome
Each of these case options is illustrated below, for two different organisations – one an HIV/AIDS development agency in Zimbabwe, and the other a theatre in a small UK town.
You need to decide which of the quadrants your case falls into most naturally. And then you need to adapt it to fit the psychological reference of the prospect.
Take a second to reflect on which of these you believe generally works best when fundraising across a wide group of people.
We’ve asked that question in over 50 conference sessions in places as far apart as Brazil and India, Australia and Sweden. Almost universally experienced fundraisers know the answer. Most of them wish the most powerful approach was ‘vision’ (positive future.) In practice – from their experience – they know ‘crisis’ (negative present) is normally the strongest. The psychology of this is complex but can, in part, be traced back to Maslow whose hierarchy of needs is based around unmet needs. A crisis represents a powerful expression of unmet need. So while it’s worth your while to always have an option to frame your case in each of the four options, make sure you can express it as a crisis by default.
Whatever quadrant your case statement sits in it needs to answer some key questions – questions that also help you make a useful structure.
When you’re developing your case use these questions to guide your collection of data and organising ideas. We think you’ll find them helpful.
To talk to us about how we can help your organisation write a powerful Case for Support, email Bernard Ross, Director or call +44(0)20 7978 1516.
If you’re in the arts and cultural sector and want to transform your fundraising efforts, visit the National Arts Fundraising School website.