The devil is not in the details.
One of the first questions I ask clients when they tell me how much money they need to raise is “What is your case for support?” More often than not, I get a bit of a deer in the headlights reaction.
Most immediately think of a printed case and while that is the best practice, I’m more curious about how they are articulating the need for funding. If I were a donor on an elevator with you right now, what would you say to engage me?
The first step in developing an effective case is to take the time to think about it through the donors’ lens. The old fashioned WIIFM, “what’s in it for me” adage comes to mind.
Most cases are built on need. We need more space. We need a new building. We need advanced technology. We need more funds for scholarships. Okay, but what about the donors’ needs? How will you be fulfilling their need to give through this effort? What is going to happen in the added space or new building? What is new and exciting about the technology? Do you have more students or do the students on scholarship need more funding? How will this be beneficial to those you serve and further your mission? Who will be impacted? And most importantly, “Why would I want to donate to this case?”
I took a journalism class in college and one lesson that stuck with me is the importance of answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, not necessarily in that order.
Who will benefit from your project/need? IMPACT
What is the project/need? TRANSPARENCY
When will it be completed/purchased/installed? ACCOUNTABILITY
Where will it be located? DILIGENCE
Why do you need this? AUTHENTICITY
How do you plan to secure the funding? STRATEGY
The irony is that you don’t have to have every “T” crossed and every “I” dotted. Donors understand the simultaneity of planning and philanthropy. Typically, we don’t have the luxury of having our plans 100% dialed in, waiting for philanthropy to unfold, and then moving forward with the project. Our case for support must be adaptable as plans, particularly if construction is involved, come to fruition. In this day and age of rising costs, if philanthropy doesn’t walk beside the planning process, we’ll just be chasing higher price tags down the road.
Does the case need to be in written form? Ideally but not always. If a campaign is underway – yes – a case must be in written form. I would argue that a DRAFT document is appropriate to maintain flexibility as the planning evolves. And there is no need to print hundreds of copies. Most cases can be printed in house on an as needed basis.
For annual campaigns, it may be sufficient to have an informal outline of the need or needs that provides talking points and language for printed materials, social media, and the like without being in a “donor ready” format.
The best written cases appeal to both the heart and mind by offering not only compelling stories and testimonials but also facts and figures to support the outcome. Visually it is ideal to include renderings, charts, photos, graphics, or other imagery to break up the text.
I’ve been asked how long a case for support should be. My answer is as long as it needs to be but no longer. It isn’t necessary to fill a document with extensive details but rather to creatively describe the key components, capture interest, and emphasize the impact of philanthropy. If additional information is needed, this can come during the conversation and supplemental pages can be used on a case-by-case basis.
The important thing is not to get tied down with the physical nature of the case but rather focus on the messaging. Will donors be inspired to support the described initiatives, or will the document end up in a round file? What makes your case stand out against others seeking funds from the same donors? And importantly, how does it meet the donors’ needs?
So where is the devil if not in the details? It is in the process of clearly defining the need and telling the story in a compelling and inspiring way. Write it, print it, read it, have someone else read it, and then dial it in.
Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their mission.