PITTSFIELD >> Just like the rest of you — I suspect — I have been watching the presidential debates very closely. However, unlike most of you, I've been watching them not only as a voter, but also as a fundraising consultant.
Looking through this lens, one of the things that strikes me the most is watching the candidates make what we call in fundraising their case for support.
Also known as a case for giving, the case for support is vital to your organization's success in raising money. So I offer the following tips for how to create a powerful case:
1. Always start your case by stating a fact that clearly describes the situation you are trying to change. For example:
"Every month, 500 people abandon their dogs, leaving them without food, shelter, and warmth."
"Every 15 seconds, a child dies of hunger."
"Every 2 seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood."
"Every 19 seconds, somewhere in the world a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer."
Don't worry about starting with something "negative". After all, there is no need for a solution if there is no problem. Plus, it allows you to better capture the readers' attention and, using the rest of the case, offer your solution.
The beginning of the case is often an area of difficulty especially for organizations that have been around for a long time.
In my experience, clients often push back, saying: "It's easy to come up with that beginning if you're a homeless shelter, or the Red Cross, and so on, but we can't make a statement like that."
Every worthy nonprofit organization has a very important problem it was created to address, and that is what needs to be in the forefront of your case for giving.
2. Now you are perfectly positioned to state your vision — the organization's inspiring "alternative" to the problem. To better connect the two steps, you can simply say something like:
"That's why our vision is to make every dog a member of someone's family, and we invite you to partner with us in fulfilling that vision."
"That's why our vision is a world without hunger. If that's the world you want to live in and leave for the next generation, please join us in building it."
The invitation to be part of the vision is also an important component of any successful case for support. You want people to feel needed and empowered to make a difference.
Make sure to put the time into developing your vision to ensure that it is as powerful and inspiring as it can be. And, please follow this simple rule: true vision describes something that does not yet exist. Otherwise, it's not a vision, but more likely a mission of your organization.
3. Time to talk about yourself — what qualifies your organization to be the best at accomplishing the vision. Talk about what the organization does, and what makes you experts to ensure that your audience is comfortable supporting you financially and otherwise. Though it can prove to be difficult try not to get too wordy describing this section. Instead, stay with a limited number of the most impressive and memorable statements. It can go something like this:
"For more than 30 years, we have been the only organization to make sure these dogs are found, and don't have to suffer. We take care of them, nurse them back to health and make sure loving families adopt them to offer them happy futures."
"For the last 15 years, our highly trained and dedicated staff has been saving the lives of children around the world and in our own backyard, bringing nurture, hope, and happiness back into their lives."
Please notice that neither of the examples above talks about the features of what the organizations do — they don't talk about buying food, for example. Instead, they talk about the benefits they bring to the abandoned dogs and hungry children, which makes their case so much more inspiring.
4. Finally, tell your audience specifically what you want it to do. Show them how their money can make a difference — describe the immeasurable impact their support can have on the lives of individuals and the world.
"The safety and happiness of our dogs is dependent on our donors. Without you, there is no option for them but trying to survive on the streets. By donating $10 a month today, you can ensure that another dog finds a happy home. Together we can make sure that no dog goes unloved and unprotected."
"The lives and well being of these children are in the hands of our donors. Without your generous support, they have no hope and no future. For only $10 a month, you can Let's work together to make sure that no child is deprived of their childhood due to hunger."
This step concludes your case, so you must make sure it continues to echo and be inspiring to your audience while conveying a sense of urgency. Describing what will happen if they support the organization will inspire them. Telling them what will happen if they do nothing conveys the sense of urgency and will produce action. Using the present tense throughout the case for support will also greatly contribute to communicating the sense of urgency.
Since the purpose of your case for support is to inspire people to support your organization, stick to the less-is-more rule. Have you noticed how much we were able to convey in the four short paragraphs above?
Even if you do need a longer case — based on the campaign you are running and/or the vehicle you are using to deliver the case — all you need to do is expand the short version you already have.
Say you need to print out a beautiful case for support brochure for your donors. You can add pictures, and testimonials, add something about the organization's history and mission — and voila, it's done. Want to put it on your website? No problem, add a few hyperlinks and a video.
Never promise the unattainable, lie or exaggerate the facts about your organization for the sake of making your case more inspiring. It will hurt your credibility and, with it, your ability to raise money.
Do not use big words or complex terminology. You want people to remember how they felt after reading or hearing your case for support, not feel inadequate or in need of a dictionary.
Your organization may not be running for the presidency of the United States, but it can certainly use as many "votes" as possible in support of its mission and vision.
So, whether you need to create a new case or improve the existing one follow the rules and tips above and "may God bless your organization, and the United States of America!"
Natasha Dresner is an organizational development consultant and mentor with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in Agawam. She can be reached at Natasha@hgf.org