The Fund Raising Basics: Your Case for Support — Examples and Questions

by Michael Haggin
Let's see some examples of the case statement. First, an advocacy group for clean, pollution-free rivers and lakes: American Heritage Waters promises 1. To restore our country's lakes and rivers to the clean, clear condition in which you knew them as a child, safe for swimming, fishing, and clamming 2. So that your grandchildren can enjoy the free beauty, free exercise and recreation, and free fresh fish and shellfish that brought health and joy to your childhood 3. By advocating effectively (as it has in the past) for government legislation, appropriations, and law enforcement. The first element is clear about the intended benefits: clean, clear, safe rivers and lakes. The donors can expect to see at least some cleaner, clearer, safer rivers and lakes in the next few years. Perhaps they can expect a lot of clean rivers and lakes in their grandchildren's and greatgrandchildren's lifetimes. The second element is clear about the beneficiaries: people in the present and future. It calls them “your grandchildren” to express the idea that you wish them well. The third element is also clear: The donor gets a bargain. She will not pay directly for the cleanup. Instead her donations will prompt (a) much larger public spending from all the people’s taxes and (b) more preventive and remedial spending by polluters. The case statement says “as it has in the past,” because the donor will believe that American Heritage Waters can accomplish its goals if it has already been effective at advocacy. If American Heritage Waters is new and has never accomplished any of these things, it can establish its credibility in one of two ways. Either the initial staff members have been effective advocates in previous work, or similar advocacy groups have accomplished similar goals successfully. (The staff-and-volunteer-memory version of the case could be something like: 1. To restore US lakes and rivers 2. for everyone, now and into the future 3. by effective advocacy for government action. This is short enough and clear enough to stick in each person’s memory and to spring easily from each person’s tongue.) Are some points missing from our case statement that you often find in other case statements?

“There is nothing in this case statement about the personal virtue, frugality, or sacrifice of the provider staff members.” That's right. A strong case statement argues that the provider (or donor alliance) is effective. It stresses the benefits delivered to the beneficiaries. Providers should not confuse the case by arguing their personal virtue. If they do, they imply (even if only a little bit) that people who make profits are less virtuous than people who don't. Most of your prospects get their money through profitable business. Don’t cast doubt on their virtue. “There is nothing about how desperate your organization is.” That's right. Sometimes you will refer to the pathetic situation of the beneficiaries. You never want to suggest that you are pathetic. Always represent your group — whether it is a nonprofit provider or a donor alliance — as effective. If you cannot make a convincing case for your effectiveness, you have to correct that condition before you can expect to raise much money from new donors. When Frank Rhodes became the President of Cornell University, Cornell was running annual deficits. President Rhodes corrected that condition first. He made hard decisions and brought the budget into regular balance. After Cornell got a reputation for good stewardship, the Trustees agreed to a five-year campaign to raise $1.25 billion — the largest sum that had ever been sought in American higher education. In five years donors committed over $1.5 billion in response. If the Trustees had asked donors to give millions to redeem management weakness or to save the President and Trustees from making needed but unpopular leadership decisions, the campaign would have failed. Instead they asked people to entrust their money to a well-managed university to add strength to strength and attain new heights of aspiration. “You don’t say how poor the organization is or how the staff sacrifices to work at such low salaries.” That’s right. These are not claims of effectiveness, so they do not bolster the case. If the donors want benefits delivered well and reliably to the beneficiaries, they will expect you to employ talented, skilled people of ability and self-esteem. And you should. Institutional poverty and low wages are not good advertisements for your effectiveness. Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Yale — these are some of the most successful fund-raisers in America. They do not claim to be cheaper than other universities. They raise lots of money because people believe they are effective at the highest standards of excellence. They meet the test of cost-effectiveness. A gift of $1,000,000 can buy more “excellence” where it is added to existing excellence than it could at a school that otherwise operates at a standard of adequacy.

Briefly, let’s look at a couple of other cases, starting with a specialized homeless shelter: To offer a really fresh start, A Place to Call Home provides 1. a supervised group house, medical and dental care, psychological counseling, and support for education and vocational training

2. for homeless single women who wish to leave lives of street prostitution 3. by operating the group home with a live-in counseling staff, by direct purchase of medical, dental, and psychological services from friendly providers, and through close ties with local high schools and community colleges. The first element is clear but, because the need is complex, the benefit package is also complex. The beneficiaries are a clearly limited group. The cause buys most services for its clients in the open market. The first live-in counselors were female ministers with counseling experience, and the first donors knew those ministers personally. Today A Place to Call Home has a record of success and has expanded through the gifts of new donors who respond to that record.

And finally, a world-renowned research university: Faber University 1a. offers undergraduate higher education and postgraduate professional education 2a. to the most intellectually ambitious students 1b. conducts path-breaking and award-winning research 2b. that advances knowledge, understanding, and application of technology throughout the world, and 1c. fosters effective individual learning 2c. by the members of its community 3. all at the highest levels of excellence. Major research universities have become so complex that it is hard to describe them with simple case statements. They actually seek support based on clusters of related case statements: scholarships, professorships, buildings, museums, athletics, and so forth. Here we have brought them all under three broad, umbrella cases. At every point, however, success depends upon proving the third claim — the claim to unceasing pursuit of excellence in all things. Faber University seeks more money than it would need to achieve adequacy in the things it does. Faber has the most inspirational and honored faculty, the smartest and intellectually mostambitious students, the best equipped laboratories, the most comprehensive library services, and so forth. Every one of these excellencies costs more than being merely ‘good,’ so Faber raises more gift support than universities of similar size but lower standards.

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