How to Write a Superb Case Statement
A superb case statement communicates to the donor why funds are urgently needed and why philanthropic support makes sense.
It’s critical for that to occur on the first page of the case, as this sample does so well, since many people will only read that page. “How can we ever say ‘no’?” the cover page asks. Right from the start the key question is posed and driven home.
When executed well, a case statement inspires your donors to invest in your future — and become ambassadors for your mission and vison.
Most people associate cases with campaigns, but you will also want to have one for your general mission and vision, the raison-d’etre for your nonprofit’s very existence. The latter should be updated each year.
Here are tips to help you write, and present, a top-shelf case statement.
I often write a short (five pages) and an extended version (10 pages) of the case, but recently I haven’t seen much need for the longer version.
I recommend creating a three to five-minute video of the case because your social media platforms demand it, plus it’s useful for major donor cultivation.
It is also important to invest in a dynamic graphic designer and a videographer to ensure that you’re choosing compelling and appropriate images. This is not the time to scrimp.
As you get started, consider the following:
- State the impact of meeting the fundraising goal: we will have expanded services or new facilities, or both?
A case statement shares your mission; but your mission is secondary to sharing the vision of the campaign, or that year’s particular annual fund focus. Placing the mission in a sidebar often serves well.
- State who will benefit from the donor’s gift.
- Boast of the organization’s strengths, yes, but profile a donor and tell the story for their reason for giving well.
- State how the potential donor can make a donation.
- Make clear the donor’s reward: lavish recognition, naming opportunities.
- Post your case on your web site and on social media, and email it to the major donor prospect prior to your online or in person meeting.
Build Your Brand
While your case statement is vital to the success of your campaign or annual fund drive, so, too, is your brand.
Campaign leaders that pay attention to branding are more likely to lead capital campaigns that perform at the highest level.
They conduct the careful work of developing a brand promise and build all the materials around communicating that promise — from the theme to the talking points, case statement, brochure, and microsite.
Take time to fully consider the promise you are communicating in your case and ensure that you’re carrying that promise through every communication that connects with the campaign or annual fund drive.
Avoid Writing by Committee
Case statements are a vital piece of any fundraising and should be prepared by fundraising counsel in concert with the organization’s CEO collaborating with a committee of the governing board.
There should be only one writer. Committees do not write; they give feedback, reject, or approve.
Drafts of the case are usually reviewed and modified by the development committee and then recommended as is to the governing board before they are accepted or sent back for revisions.
Ask for input and general feedback, but avoid asking for line edits. Use a professional copy-editor before sharing it with the board.
Write in the ‘Donor’s Voice’
The case must be written to the donor as if the donor were standing in front of you, and you were speaking directly to him or her.
We call this the “donor’s voice,” as contrasted with an “institutional voice,” or a voice narrating client stories. The case should not disrupt the conversation the document seeks to have with the donor.
Do You Need to Show Your Business Plan?
Some cases are backed up by strategic, project, or business plans. These documents are primarily internal to the organization unless the major donor wants that level of detail.
They can be incredibly valuable as you develop your case statement, since they articulate the fundamental reasons underlying your appeal for funds.
They may also contain other information critical to the organization’s work — the mission, goals and objectives, programs and services, staffing, governing board, facilities, and how funds are allocated.
Material for grant proposals and other campaign materials are often drawn from these core documents.
Less Is More
A great case statement, meanwhile, is written to be read by the public and potential donors.
Yes, it tells the indispensable story of your nonprofit and the community it serves, and explicitly states the case for special capital or reserve or endowed revenues; but it must never waiver from being a love letter to the donors. If the case does not speak to the donor it has failed.
Your case may be presented as a brochure, glossy portfolios, a speech, video, or even in letter format.
Personal testimony should be included but only by the expert leaders of your nonprofit, or those close to them in expertise.
The case is not a research document whereby quotes from Einstein or lists of statistics are given. Less is more with a great case.
Lastly, remember that the case is just a tool and should take a back seat to having a terrific conversation with the donor. Fundraising should strive for deep relationships.
Many organizations waste way too much time in crafting the case when that time should be spent on donor research and securing meetings. If you’ve taken more than a month, you have taken too long.
If the case isn’t complete yet but the donor wants to meet, without trouble set up the meeting and bring what you have. Donor engagement and securing lead gifts outplay everything.
Laurence is author of "The Nonprofit Fundraising Solution," the first book on fundraising ever published by the American Management Association. He is chairman of LAPA Fundraising serving nonprofits throughout the U.S. and Europe.