Case for Support

“Why do we need a case?” the leader of one organization asked. “Every member of the staff already knows our vision.” The truth is that everyone within an organization knows his or her version of the vision, but each may be quite different from others. Just as sheet music makes certain that everyone in the orchestra plays the same tune, a Case for Support guides your staff and volunteers in communicating a cohesive story to the public. Also called a case statement, it puts into writing a brief, clear and concise statement that communicates your fundraising goals, explaining to your potential donors what your vision is, what the priorities are to achieve that vision and what the benefits will be if the donor supports your vision.

The Four Phases of a Case for Support

  1. The internal case, where talking points, evidence of need, goals and your fundraising plan is collected and stored. This is an internal source document, so it doesn’t have to be professionally presented.
  2. The general case, which has two functions: to concisely illustrate why your vision is important and to make clear the necessary support of donors.
  3. The draft case, which is the “unfinished” version of the public case. Share this version with top prospects or stakeholders to get feedback and buy-in (and lead gifts prior to any public announcements or general asks). Remember the old fundraising adage ask for money and get advice; ask for advice and get money.
  4. The public case (or case expression), is used for personal visits, broader outreach and any public communications.

Before you Begin

Do you have all these questions answered? (The key to a successful case for support is to anticipate all of the big questions prospective donors may have about the project, answer them, and ‘put a cherry on top.’)

  • What is your mission/purpose? What’s the need? What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What evidence is there that this is a pressing need? Make it clear that the need is now, and that it needs to be addressed soon. Include surveys, expert opinions, or statements from the beneficiaries.
  • What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you plan to do?
  • What is the objective? How will your goals will be met? Be specific and make them measurable.
  • What will be the benefits of your action? If you take action now, what will be the positive consequences, both major and minor? What can be guaranteed, and what is possible?
  • What are the consequences if you fail? Sometimes this is the strongest motivator for donors, so lay out clearly the major and minor negative consequences if you do not act.
  • Why now? Why you? What is it about your unit that makes this need appropriate?
  • How is your unit uniquely qualified to tackle this need? While there may be several organizations that could tackle this issue, what is special about you? Is it your track record, the newness of your approach?
  • What is the fundraising plan? What will the gift fund? Detail the need and your solution to the need. How much money will you need to meet your goal? How can the donor’s gift shape the outcome?

When answering these questions, be specific. State precisely what the need is, and who exactly will benefit when that need is met. Be sure to make the need manageable so that supporters will feel that they can make a difference. For example, global poverty is too big for an individual to get his arms around. But he may be able to support a program or create a faculty position.

Tips and Best Practices

  • Organizational information to include: overall UW statements (mission, values, vision, brand; financial information: annual reports, budget; UW or school/college news clippings to stay aware of PR or media surrounding your school or college; all outbound communications; descriptions of programs and services; overview of unit’s governance and staffing
  • Involve stakeholders: Who will you want early buy-in from? Examples include your dean, volunteer boards, current major donors interested in a particular area, etc. Identify the stakeholders early in your process, so you can plan for the appropriate amount of time for review, as well as ensure an integral stakeholder is not overlooked.
  • Humanize: make it about people, make it relatable
  • Use language donors can understand: be cautious of too much internal jargon or academic language not easily absorbed or understood
  • Focus on the results and impact, not your need
  • Emphasize an opportunity to invest, not the obligation to give
  • Promote the social investment and the values-based return, not the premiums provided in exchange for a gift
  • Make the donor the “hero” or “visionary,” shift the burden of success to the donors shoulders
  • Make your goal attainable: be cautious on setting the goal too far beyond reach, i.e. solving global warming vs. slowing the impacts of global warming
  • Don’t fix your case in stone. Major donors, particularly, will not want to see a finished plan to fund. They will want to be involved in its development. Give them space to contribute their ideas, thus strengthening their engagement.