Making the Case
If you were to enroll in one of the fundraising classes I teach at a couple of local universities, you can be sure you will have to write a case statement for your nonprofit.
Explaining the case for support is one of the hardest assignments for my students and clients alike. Sometimes we get too bogged down in the "trees" that make up the day-to-day of our nonprofit to be able to step back and look critically at the "forest" — the bigger picture of how our mission plays out in real life.
A case for support is useful for making sure all your staff and volunteers (including board members) have the same understanding of what you do and they have some interesting tidbits stored in their memories that they can pull up when given the opportunity to "make a case" for your organization. It is also used for launching a capital campaign and can help with courting donors.
So here's your assignment: Read these tips, and then write a case statement for your nonprofit. You'll get much more out of this exercise than a grade. You'll have a clear explanation of what you do, how you do it and why you do it — without the day-to-day internal strife that can sometimes sap the joy out of our work.
Tip No. 1: Focus on what excites
My preferred form of exercise is swimming. I'm actually a bit passionate about it. If someone asks me why I enjoy swimming, I can explain that I have a clicker on my finger to help me keep track of my laps, I use a special MP3 player made for swimming so I am entertained, and I use shampoo specially formulated to remove chlorine.
All that's true, but none of it would make anyone very excited about taking up swimming. It's the same with your case for support. Focus on the exciting things you do and the good results of your work. The administrative details aren't all that motivational.
"Administrative details" may include your list of board members, a detailed history of your nonprofit or even the logistics of how you carry out your work. These may come up later in conversation, but your case needs to whet a supporter's appetite, not give her indigestion.
Tip No. 2: Prove you're doing a great job without getting too statistic-heavy
I love numbers and statistics, but I realize that they often are pretty boring dinnertime conversation. Don't fill your case statement with bullet-point lists of stats. After a few, it's hard to wrap your mind around the message they are meant to make clear.
Instead, find a way to make your statistics mean something. Use illustrations, or break a big situation down into a smaller, representative explanation. Not sure how? Check out this classic explanation of how the world would look if it were a village of only 100 people.
How can you explain the scope of what your nonprofit is doing in a creative, interesting way that gets rid of the overwhelming nature of too many facts and figures?
Time No. 3: Never forget the emotion
Your case statement doesn't have to be the plot for the next Hallmark commercial, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't engage your reader's heart along with his or her head. From the very first paragraph, get your reader feeling like part of the story. Share the need as well as your success so far, showing how your nonprofit is a reason for the good news.
These stories are the Reader's Digest Condensed Book version, to be sure, but they still need to paint enough of a picture that your reader feels like he or she is standing right next to the person you are talking about.
Photos can be used to convey your story, too. A few well-chosen photos that pull the reader into the case can truly be worth 1,000 words.
This isn't a complete list of everything you need to know about writing a case statement, but these issues seem to be what trips us up most often. We're good at including our mission and our funding needs, but not as good when it comes to making our reader hungry to be part of our solution.
Why write a case statement? It's a wonderful tool for communicating and fundraising, and it can help you recapture the excitement you had before the pressure of "work" overtook the joy of "mission." Taking the time to articulate a "case for support" is one of the best ways to wrap your mind around what it is your nonprofit does — and what about it is marketable to potential donors.
Who knows? You may be the one who benefits most from your case statement.
Pamela Barden is the creative juice and the copywriting machine behind PJBarden Inc., a consulting firm focusing on helping small to midsized nonprofits see big results in fundraising. Pamela also serves on the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. You can follow Pamela on Twitter @pjbarden.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.