As a nonprofit leader, you may have been told somewhere along the lines that you need a great case statement for fundraising.
If you haven’t heard that yet, I’m here to deliver the news: You need a case statement!
A case statement is a really useful tool for gathering your thoughts around why people should give to your nonprofit. It’s also a fantastic resource to help define your message and your mission to keep you focused.
We usually think of a case statement when we’re working on a capital campaign. It’s the document that answers prospects’ questions about the campaign after they’ve been asked for money.
But a case statement can also be super handy for raising money for ongoing operational expenses.
So, what exactly IS a case statement? And what goes in one?
What is a Case Statement?
The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) defines “case” as “the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization’s programs, current needs, and plans.
In plain English, a case statement is a concise and clear summary of your organization’s work and why people should give to help you in your mission.
In short, it explains:
- Your mission
- Your vision
- Your history
- Your goals
- Reasons why someone might give
Think of it as your Elevator Speech, Part 2.
Imagine chatting with someone about your organization. They ask, “So, what does your nonprofit do?” You break into your quick elevator speech and recite it like a pro without scrambling to find the right words. [Nicely done!]
While you’re invisibly patting yourself on the back for an awesome elevator speech, the person you’re talking with says, “Oh! Tell me more about that and how I can help!”.
You want to hear more?
I just delivered my elevator speech with conviction, I hit all the right notes, highlighted all the right things, and now you want to hear more?
THIS is where your case statement comes in. It replaces the ums and the awkward pauses and helps you deliver a more polished and professional message.
Why do You Need a Case Statement?
For starters, you really need TWO case statements: An external one to present to potential donors, partners, and sponsors and an internal one for planning and guidance.
The External Case
Case statements are typically used for fundraising campaigns, not for your average fundraiser.
If you’re trying to raise a large amount of money for a capital campaign, develop a new program, or complete a project, a case statement is needed. You’re trying to reach big goals, and most donors will have big questions that need thoughtful answers.
Having a well prepared case statement is an essential tool for fundraising. It’s a source you can refer back to often to sharpen your talking points, and it’s a very simple way to communicate key messages to people about why the work you are doing matters.
It will also help your Board of Directors stay aligned with your messaging and the way your organization should be represented.
A case statement also clearly defines how people can help and why you need their help, and it can fill in lots of gaps by answering some of the most frequently asked questions you may receive from prospective supporters.
It’s an easy handout, and it’s a great way to communicate information that goes deeper than what you might otherwise share.
The Internal Case
Internally, your case statement will form the basis for your marketing and fundraising efforts including brochures, grant proposals, educational materials, public speaking engagements, press releases, and so on.
It’s a valuable resource for your Board members and staff, and they should familiarize themselves with it so that everyone is on the same page about needs, messaging, and purposes.
Think of it as your go-to-guide whenever you’re creating new materials, training new staff or volunteers, or whenever you need a reminder of why you’re working so hard to do the work you do.
If your nonprofit is brand new, or if you’re thinking about starting a nonprofit, a case statement talks about what you are planning to do. The exercise of writing the case statement can help you clarify your goals and sharpen your language, even if you never actually share it with anyone outside of the organization.
How to Build a Case Statement
Now that we’ve made the case for case statements, let’s talk about how to create one!
For starters, your case statement should be just a few pages long and include all of the important points about your organization.
Remember, this is NOT intended to communicate every point or answer every question.
The point of a case statement is to inspire and peak the curiosity of potential donors. It should make them want to hear more. If you overwhelm them with too much written information, you run the risk of losing their attention.
Before you begin, gather any relevant materials about your organization’s history and activities. What have you been sharing about the work your nonprofit does? You may already have some good sentences or paragraphs that you can use in your case statement, so keep these handy.
In general, your case statement will explain:
- Who you are
- What you do
- Why you’re doing it
- What sets you apart from other organizations doing the same thing
- Past successes
- Why what you’re doing matters
- How you’re doing it
- What you need to do the thing you’re trying to do
- The impact of donors and support
You will answer these questions by including your mission and vision statements, what problems your organization addresses, past successes, what you are raising money for and why, and what your fundraising goal is.
Your internal case statement won’t need to include a specific project or fundraising goal, but the rest of the information should remain the same.
We have a sample template to help you get started. Download the template here.
As mentioned before (maybe a couple times), a great case statement is important to fundraising, but even the best-written words on a page will fall flat without real-life stories to support it.
When you are done writing your case statement, pore through it and look for opportunities to insert powerful photos that show your mission in action. The right chart or infographic can also be used.
These visual touches allow your reader to form an emotional connection to your work and help wrap your case statement into a tidy, informative, and beautiful piece that motivates someone to give.
In your story, be prepared to talk about someone you have helped — and in specific terms.
Meaning, describe what the problem was, how you addressed it and made things better, and the current status of the recipient of your services.
Tug at the heartstrings. Help folks understand that your organization isn’t just a pretty document with words on it, but that you’re an integral part of solving problems in the community you serve.
Help them to see that your cause should matter to them, too.
Share your successes, and, yes, it’s okay to share some of your failures too. Failures are opportunities to learn. Perhaps your efforts failed because you didn’t have enough resources. Perhaps it was because you didn’t have enough community support.
All of those things matter and can help make the future of your organization brighter.
Toot Your Own Horn!
Donors like giving to organizations with proven track records and success stories that show they are effective at performing the work they do.
So, don’t be shy! Talk about your recent successes, relevant awards or recognition you’ve received, or any other accolades that support your case.
Be humble, but be proud.
You’ve worked hard to achieve any successes you’ve enjoyed. Make sure your potential supporters know about them!
Think of it as an Invitation
Get into the mindset that a case statement isn’t an ask, but rather an invitation.
Create a sense of teamwork and interdependence on one another to really make an impact and invite your prospect to join the team and help change the world!
Turning it into an invitation takes an immense amount of pressure off you, and hopefully will help instill some confidence in you if you are nervous or uncomfortable “asking” for donations.
You aren’t asking – you’re inviting!
Doesn’t that feel better?
Updating Your Case Statement
Your case statement should be updated annually to reflect any changes or new information, like success stories or new goals and/or programs you’d like to achieve in the coming year.
And of course, it should be updated to reflect the current needs of your organization.
What Not to Do in Your Case Statement
We’ve given you a good wrap-up of what a case statement should include.
There are also some things you shouldn’t include, like these:
|Use plain English||Use jargon or industry acronyms|
|Provide complete, easy-to-read information||Use run-on sentences or get into every detail|
|Use hero language such as:
“You can save a life!”
“You can make a difference!”
“With you on our team, we can…”
|Use guilt or “emotional blackmail” to earn support. Stay away from things like:
“Without your support, people will starve”
“This animal didn’t have to die. Your donation will help…”
|Use infographics and powerful images||Use links to other information or present a case statement that is only written words|
|Have an external person outside of your organization read and review the case statement, and ask if they are inspired or compelled to get involved||Release your case statement without another set of eyes to check your messaging and for any errors|
|Make the recipients of your services the main focus||Make the focus only about your organization|
|Be prepared to talk and tell stories that can form an emotional connection between your work and your prospective donor||Expect a written document to do all the work for you|
In the end, remember that your case statement won’t just be about you or your organization.
It’ll be about a community of people coming together to work towards the same goal — where people become a part of something bigger than themselves.