What is a case statement? Well, let me share a story that will help you better understand what a case statement is, why it’s important, and how to ensure your case statement resonates with potential donors.
Imagine you’re sitting down for coffee with a prospective major gift donor. Maybe you met her at an event for your organization, or a board member referred her. She’s somewhat familiar with your organization, but this is the first real meeting you’ve had, one-on-one.
After you’ve gotten through the small talk of settling in, Ms. Prospect says, “So tell me all about XYZ organization.”
If you’ve worked with your organization for any length of time, you probably have an “elevator speech” version of describing who you are and what you do, so you say something like, “XYZ organization claims empty spaces in urban environments and transforms them into community gardens. We teach people to grow vegetables and create space for neighbors to get to know each other.”
She nods enthusiastically. “Right. Great! Tell me more about that.”
DUN, DUN, DUUUUUUUUUUUN.
Your elevator speech is over. Now you’ve got to make a case for support.
The Case For The Case: Why You Need A Case Statement
Call it a “Case Statement” or a “Case for Support,” or “The Case,” but whatever you call it, you need it. You need an actual document that spells out why someone should give your organization money.
I know. This sounds like the kind of busy work that derails nonprofits all the time, doesn’t it? “Great!” you’re thinking, “I can spend a bunch of time creating a document that only I reference, that ends up sitting on the shelf in a binder, next to all those other documents that consultants and experts have told me I have to have.”
Your skepticism is understandable, but hear me out.
Defining and describing what you do, why it matters, and the reasons you need and deserve people’s support almost guarantees your fundraising will be more effective. With a clear case statement, you will be ready when Ms. Prospect asks to know more, and anytime you need to encourage people to give.
What Is A Case Statement?
The Association of Fundraising Professionals defines “case” as:
“Case, n. the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs, and plans.”
You can write a case statement for a specific program or campaign, or for your organization as a whole. The document should be used both internally and externally. Internally, it will inform how you write and talk about your organization in fundraising endeavors. Externally, it persuades people to support you.
Your case should explain:
- Who you are
- What you do
- Why you’re doing it
- Why you’re different than other people doing that thing
- Why it matters
- How you’re doing it
- What you need to do the thing you’re trying to do
- The impact of donors and support
To get started brainstorming your case, consider one insistent question:
The fact is, “We do a good thing,” isn’t terribly compelling. Take it deeper by asking yourself, “So what?” What is your community coming together to do? Why does it matter? What will a donor be part of? What changes are you making in the world? Why should someone join you to make that thing happen?
In the end, your case statement won’t just be about you. It will be about a community coming together to make a change, and an invitation to join that community.
How To Use Your Case Statement
The case statement is the Swiss Army knife of documents. Anytime you’re writing or talking about your organization, the case for support can help you to be clearer, more targeted, and more inspiring.
So, back to Ms. Prospect. How does this document help your conversation with her?
When you’re cultivating a prospect, the case becomes a map for long-form storytelling. It gives you a cheat-sheet for the most important points to make. The case statement alone is not all you need, but it provides a structure for telling your organization’s story and inspiring giving.
What if you’re invited to speak at the local Chamber of Commerce?
Then the case is the outline of your presentation. A simplified version might provide the text for your slides. At the very least, the case is a checklist for covering all your bases.
Need a handout for a potential corporate partner to share with their bosses? Voila, the case!
Far from just another document on your shelf, the case statement can:
- Keep you on track and donor-focused when you’re asking for support
- Help other people make the case for your organization
- Give your community a clear and consistent way to share your mission
- Provide consistency throughout your fundraising activities
3 Conversational Superchargers To Help Craft Your Case Statement
Of course, you can’t just read Ms. Prospect your case statement. She can probably read herself, and she didn’t agree to coffee so that you could give her a bunch of information that is on your website. She wanted a meeting with an authority on your organization to learn if she wants to be a part of it. Supercharge your case with human stories, your personal passion for your cause, and active listening.
Human Stories Illustrate The Case
People give to people most of all, and human stories motivate giving.
Rather than reciting the case statement, find examples to demonstrate the points you make. Connect each point of the case with a real client, volunteer, or donor impact story. Stories connect more than statistics, and specifics mean more than explaining the entire scope of a program.
For our community garden organization, perhaps the case statement says we “combat social isolation by creating spaces for neighbors to get to know each other.” While talking to Ms. Prospect, or the chamber of commerce, I could tell a story of someone who was lonely who now has neighborhood friends, or how the neighbors have created more opportunities to spend time together.
“Professional” usually means “unemotional,” but that doesn’t quite work for fundraisers. People give because they have empathy, and most fundraising is emotionally-driven. That means there’s a place for your own emotions in your fundraising conversations.
People are influenced by the social and emotional cues other people give them. It’s okay if injustice makes you angry, or progress on an issue excites you. You’re asking your donors to care, it makes sense that you would care, too.
Your passion for your mission can be a powerful motivator for the donors you meet–don’t be afraid to show it. As long as you keep the focus on your cause, your emotions can increase your trustworthiness.
If you have a deeply personal connection to your cause, it’s often appropriate to share it. Just make the story about the cause, and what the organization does about it, more than telling your own life story.
The most important parts of your conversation with Ms. Prospect might not be anything you have prepared. It might be something she brings up or a question she asks. You can miss this if you’re too wrapped up in making your case for support, so it’s important to listen.
Leave space for your prospect to talk. Invite them to participate by asking questions like:
- What do you already know about XYZ organization?
- What interests you about our organization?
- What are you curious about?
- What kinds of causes are you already involved with? What about them interests you?
- What did you think of the event you attended?
Then listen. The best prospect meetings are a conversation, not a presentation.
The Case Statement Is An Invitation
Fundraising conversations and writing are persuasive, but they’re not argumentative. You can’t really argue someone into supporting your cause. Instead, fundraising invites donors to be part of something bigger. This is the core of your case statement, and the heart of your prospecting conversations: an invitation.
Just like your written case statement, make sure your fundraising conversations contain an explicit invitation, such as:
- Would you like to help?
- What kind of involvement interests you?
- Are you interested?
Any invitation can be accepted or rejected. Your prospect may not be ready to RSVP on donating. That’s okay. Keep the conversation going by inviting them to engage more, such as:
- What kind of information would you like to help you decide?
- Would you like to talk more about this later?
- Would you like to come see our programs in action?
Ready For Ms. Prospect
Armed with your case statement and conversational superchargers, you’ll be ready when people want to know about you. You’ll be focused on the cause, clearly represent who you are and what you do, and will make the best possible case for supporting your organization.