Build Your Case for Support

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Once you have answered the sustainability planning questions, you will have a solid understanding of your organization’s purpose and contributions to the community. You can use this understanding to determine which people are most likely to support your organization and to create messages that will be effective in gaining their support. A donor will only support an organization if he or she believes in its cause. No matter how effective your organization is in fulfilling its mission, you will fail to find adequate donor support unless you both compose and deliver an effective message. Building a case for support is like advertising. You must narrow your target audience and communicate in a way that attracts their interest. Your “case” is the message that you use to “sell” your organization and its mission to prospective donors.

Step 1: Identify and define the problem(s) addressed by your organization.

The ultimate goal of Step 1 is to answer the “Why should I care?” question for your prospective donors. In order to best address this question, it may be helpful to refer back to the question from the previous section, “What are we trying to accomplish by maintaining our programs or services?” To answer this, identify the services that you provide and consider what problems those services are meant to combat. For example, let’s suppose that your community has a high dropout rate as well as a large number of youth involved in gangs. Your organization runs various after-school programs in your community, offering tutoring and various recreational activities. The problems that these particular programs address could be both dropping out of school and gang involvement, assuming that you can establish a correlation between the two.

When communicating this message of “Why you should care” to your audiences, appeal to them both emotionally and logically. Target the message as much as possible by always keeping the audience in mind! Since catering the message to specific individuals is likely cost prohibitive, the next best thing is to break down the donors into groups by some common factor that characterizes them as a population, ethnic group, geographical community, or other group, and consider instances of each distinct problem addressed through the services you provide.

The Targeting Your Audience template will help you communicate to donors why they should care.

Use the Targeting Your Audience Template to build your case for why your prospective donors should care.

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Step 2: Explain your purpose and your solution to the problem.

No matter how convincingly you portray the seriousness of the problem, donors will not support your organization unless they believe that funding you will make a difference. The goal of Step 2 is twofold:

  1. To establish your organization as a “brand” for your donors
  2. To convince them that you provide the best available solution to the problem.

You need to communicate your purpose in a compact form that donors can identify with and believe in. Point out your successes through statistics, such as numbers served, as well as testimonials from clients (particularly members of your target audience) to demonstrate the impact you’ve had on the community.

The Selling Your Organization template will help you communicate to donors why you make a difference.

Use the Selling Your Organization Template to communicate to funders that you make a difference.

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Step 3: Share your vision for the future.

Before a donor will want to make a long-term commitment to supporting your organization, they must believe in not only what you’ve done to address the problem in the past, but also on your plans for the future. This involves communicating your vision to your target audiences and describing how you plan to improve upon currently offered services. In addition, use this opportunity to explain how your plans will help address the problem in the future.

The Sharing Your Vision template will help you communicate to donors your plans for the future.

Use the Sharing Your Vision Template to communicate to donors your plans for the future.

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Step 4: Define the support needed to accomplish the vision.

If you’ve accomplished the previous three steps, your prospective donor should care about the problem and believe that supporting your organization is a worthy cause. At this point, he or she should be asking, “How can I help?” Obviously, there are numerous costs involved with running an organization and, as a nonprofit, you likely depend upon a combination of donations and grants for your very survival. Donors are more likely to give if they understand these costs and how their gifts might be used. How could a donation of X amount of dollars help fulfill your organization’s vision? Think about all of the costs involved with running your organization. Since your case for support is similar to an advertisement, you should focus on expenses that are most likely to be attractive to your audience, namely the expenses associated with running programs or offering services to clients.

The Organizational Costs template will help you group expenses by gift amount.

Use the Organizational Costs Template to group organizational expenses by donor gift amount.

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Step 5: Ask for and encourage that support.

Now that you’ve made your case, it’s time to ask for support. Be assertive! Let your prospective donors know how important their support is to you and those you serve and that by supporting the organization, they are making a difference in the community. Also let them know what perks you might have to offer, such as newsletters, recognition, and invitations to special events.

Present your case in an engaging way will attract the interest of your audience.

Your case for support must engage your audience. Passive voice and variations of the verb “to be” are not effective means of conveying the dynamic nature of your organization. Instead, use an active voice. For instance, rather than saying “the Neighborhood Homes Project was founded in 1958 by John and Jane Doe,” say “John Doe founded the Neighborhood Homes Project in 1958.”

It is essential to capture the points that are central to communicating your message by being thorough and concise without losing your audience. Be selective in choosing what points to include and trim any unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Ensure that the appearance of your materials is attractive to the audience. Use a readable font and don’t neglect color scheme or spacing.

For a helpful “on the go” resource about how to present your case, download the form, Tips for Presenting.