About the Case

A case for support is full and complete argument for a cause. It is a charitable organization’s most important document. In the marketplace of nonprofits, your case for support sets your organization apart from other like organizations. It tells the world why your organization exits, why it matters and why it is worthy of charitable support.

Because giving decisions are made with both the head and the heart, the case needs to make both a logical and a heartfelt argument for support.

It is the source document—the hub—that anchors all fundraising and from which all fundraising communication flows. It informs marketing material, proposals, news releases, articles, speeches, conversations, provides content for social media, and is the source for board briefings and volunteer recruitment and training.

The three central questions at the heart of a case for support are:

  1. Why invest in this sector?
  2. Why invest in this organization/cause?
  3. Why now?

To satisfy these questions the case for support strategically addresses related topics, including:

  • Mission and vision
  • Leadership and stability
  • Accountability
  • History
  • Need
  • Opportunity
  • Impact

How you speak about your cause and your organization matters

The case for support is more than a compilation of information about mission and vision, leadership and stability. When we develop the case for support, we take a strategic look at how an organization talks about itself.

There are many ways to speak about something. Take a car, for example. We can speak about it in terms of its attributes, things like the size of the engine, number of doors, fuel efficiency, cruse control, leather interior, and so on. Or, we can speak of it in terms of transportation and how a car affords us freedom to move from one place to the next with ease. We can speak about it in terms of price. And we can speak about it as the engineering marvel that it is, how its invention ushered in the production line and changed the way goods were manufactured.

Substitute a car for a non-profit. How do you speak about your cause? It is about your attributes, if so which ones, why and how? There are multiple ways to speak about and to demonstrate leadership, impact, vision, which way will be most effective for you?

Making the case

The case for support is a brilliantly strategic document that begins to work for an organization through its making, as it brokers the vision among key internal and external stakeholders.

The case-making process involves interviews with 10 to 12 key individuals: donors, leaders, decision-makers and individuals who have benefit from funds raised. A case for support for a hospital foundation, for example, may include interviews with the CEO of the health authority (in Canada), the board chair and the CEO of the Foundation, respected politicians from the area, community advocates, major donors, individuals who can provide historical perspective, doctors, and patients, who have or could benefitted significantly from funds raised.

Through the interview process two things take place:

  1. The interviewees become part of the process that helps refine (and sometimes define) and articulate the vision. Through that process they become more invested in the cause and begin to view the mission and vision through a different lens, the lens of a fully invested insider. In this way, the case-making process helps broker the vision to key stakeholders and begins the donor cultivation process.
  2. The arguments for the cause become clear, as do the areas that need work. Both establish the strategic direction of the case. For example, if leadership is identified as having been problematic in the past, the case must demonstrate that the organization is now in good and capable hands.  Establishing a business-like tone, featuring trusted and respected voices, and presenting a thought-through, strategic vision can help achieve this outcome.

The art of the question

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.

Frances Peavey, an early leader in the use of strategic questions said, Questions can be like a lever you use to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can. . . . If we have a short lever, we can only just crack open the lid on the can. But if we have a longer lever, or a more dynamic question, we can open that can up much wider and really stir things up. . . . If the right question is applied, and it digs deep enough, then we can stir up all the creative solutions.

The soul of the case comes from the interview and the strongest argument for a cause generally comes into view through long-lever questions. Short-lever questions provide for an–at best–average case. When you make your case, invest your best thinking into producing dynamic questions.

Some writers develop the case based on secondary research, information gathered by a third party during a planning study, for example. While a planning study provides excellent insight, relying on secondary information to inform an important document like the case for support is not recommended. Nuances are lost. Emotion goes un-captured. Quotes that stir the hearts are missed. The question that renders the central line of argumentation may never be asked, or may not be captured in the planning study.

The deliverable

Though no two cases for support are alike, the final, delivered case often consisted of a 15 to 20-page narrative followed by a “case resources” section. This latter section is populated with tools for the fundraiser and for the marketing department and may include FAQs that address both cursory and tough questions, a fact sheet, a collection of approved and ready to use stories, and a page of approved and ready to use stakeholder quotes.

If you have a question about the case or want to talk about working together, please use the form below, or contact me through my website at http://www.febeglavezvoth.com.

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