Monthly Archives: January 2013

Ask this. Get that. Why questions matter.

When I was fresh out of college, I had a conversation with my sister’s academic advisor, a Ph.D. in in immunology. He was giving me advice on how to get academics to explain their work in more detail. His advice, challenge them by saying, You don’t really believe that, do you? A great question to get people, not just academics, to talk.

The Case for Support and good questions

Are you asking long-lever questions?

Albert Einstein said, If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. Continue reading

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What are you doing on Valentine’s Day?

February 14th is coming up. That means it’s time to think of ways to share the love that flows from your cause with your organization’s community, its donors, volunteers, leaders. Case for Support: Valentine's Day

I’m not talking about sending chocolates or flowers to your donors. On Cupid’s day, that would border on being inappropriate. I am suggesting that you have an opportunity to show impact, to show how gifts of money, time and leadership are changing lives. If that’s not a message of love, I don’t know what is.   Continue reading


I woke up wondering…

…did I write forward or foreword? And wouldn’t you know it, I had written one when I had meant the other. The blunder happened in an email to Amanda, a colleague and friend who is an amazing editor. Embarrassed  I followed up with a note to her. This kind of thing keeps me humble.

Writers bring different skills and strengths to projects. Some writers are the embodiment of The Elements of Style. They can spot a misplaced modifier as easily most people can spot a piece of spinach in someone’s teeth. They know where a stronger verb Continue reading


The Commander’s Intent: Find clarity fast

Here’s a concept that can help you find clarity, fast. Developed by the US Army, the notion of the Commander’s Intent has useful application for fundraisers, and is working its way into the cases for support that I develop. I came across the concept last year when I read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Health.

As I mentioned, the concept has its origin in the US Army. Imagine planning for combat situations. If this happens, do that. But it that happens, do this. Yikes.  (Not unlike fundraising in an unpredictable environment.)  Colonel Tom Kolditz, head of behavioural Continue reading

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Does your case satisfy three central questions?

In the nonprofit sector we typically don’t think of other nonprofits as competitors, or at least we don’t like to admit that we do.

The reality is that nonprofits compete for support, and the competition for volunteers and dollars is increasing. There are about 80,000 registered charities in Canada and about one million in the US. Not reflected in these numbers is the recent internet- Continue reading

A 30-second case, do you have one / need one?

You’re waiting for the elevator and notice a potential donor standing next to you. This is someone who has shown interest in your organization’s cause, and has the potential to make a significant difference. You greet each other. The conversation turns to the cause that connects the two of you. You have a few seconds to chat. What do you say?

When I started to write cases for support over a decade ago, the deliverable was a narrative supported by appendices with facts and figures. Today, I like to include, what Continue reading

Clearing up a misconception

I want to clear up a misconception about the case for support. It could be that we in the nonprofit sector fully comprehend the case but have become lackadaisical in how we speak about it. Or, it could be that over time some of us have let our thinking slide and have reduced the case to something less than it is.

I hear some people speak of the case as the thing that they are raising funds for. For Continue reading

Try this next time you sit down to write

I do my best work when I erase, these words were written in freestyle on a painting I saw last year in an art gallery. The work featured an old-fashioned yellow pencil. The eraser cap, darkened with pencil lead was mostly worn down and the eraser dust had collected at the bottom of the page next to the text.

What was the artist trying to get across? I think her message was about margin and freedom to explore.  She was encouraging us to  allow ourselves the time and the freedomOn writing the Case for Support to try on ideas, perspectives, and if you are working on a case for support, to try different lines of argumentation. To me, she was saying that it’s okay — even desirable — to start a case, an appeal, an article or proposal many times over, and to contrast and compare to see which is stronger and better.
Continue reading

Is your case stirring hearts and minds?

I met a colleague for a glass of wine at ULounge in South Surrey after work on Tuesday. She shared an illuminating story.

My colleague serves on the finance committee of local nonprofit whose giving is down. At a recent meeting, a committee member had suggested that the younger generation was not as committed to the cause as he thought it could be or should be. He believed that Continue reading

Five things that stuck at Stanford

I was one of 350 people who attended the Nonprofit Management Institute at Stanford University on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012. I met inspiring, passionate, intelligent people from the Lower Mainland and from around the world. I heard respected thinkers speak about things that made my head spin. I came away refreshed and refocused.

Eight weeks later, I asked myself: What were the top three things that stuck at Stanford? That list of three things became a list four things and then a list of five things. That says something. Here is the final list. Continue reading

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