Your Case Is Not a Writing Exercise
Written by Senior Consultants & Principals Martha Voegeli and Ron Arena
We often hear from clients that the campaign case statement is “with the writer” ― at times an internal staff person, at other times a freelancer. The process is straightforward: Carve out some uninterrupted time, close the office door, silence the phone, and pound away at the keyboard.
But wait. This suggests that the case is first and foremost a writing assignment. It is not. Writing the case, in fact, should be the last step in a process that begins with formulating a vision and making tough strategic decisions about investment priorities that will best support that vision.
When we start a conversation with a prospective client about a future campaign, the first questions we ask are: What is driving consideration of a campaign at this time? What are you trying to raise money for and why? What problems are you looking to solve? What will be different and better when the campaign ends?
If answers to those fundamental questions are fuzzy, the campaign is missing its core purpose. And your donor prospects will be the first to point that out.
What Is Your Case?
The case is more than a document; it is the clear articulation of your organization’s vision for the future ― a vision that is fully achievable only with the generous support of your donor community. The case should draw from comprehensive strategic planning and insights and aspirations voiced by institutional leadership. It should be understood at the highest level: why we exist and why we matter. And each funding priority should be defensible: Why is this program, this building, this center vital not just to us but, more importantly, to the communities we serve?
Where to Start?
Review your mission statement, your founding documents, and your strategic plan. If you don’t have a current plan, use your operating plans and annual reports from recent years to consider your direction and aspirational impact. Then, gather leadership and key stakeholders together and ask:
- Why us? What are our points of strength and distinction that will appeal to a prospective donor audience?
- Why you? Why the donor? Why is our partnership with the philanthropic community critical to the future vitality of our organization, our region and state, even the nation and world?
- Why now? Why is a campaign timely, even urgent? What’s at stake? What institutional projects, programs, and priorities will best advance our mission and vision?
This should lead to a set of themes, what we think of as the “campaign architecture” or “buckets” that lift specific funding priorities to a higher level and move you away from a laundry list of funding items. Defining these themes is a critical first step toward framing the case at a high level. Here’s one simple example of a campaign architecture for an educational institution:
- Ensuring Access Across Our Community
- Attracting and Retaining Top Talent
- Creating the Campus of Tomorrow
And here is one from a prominent children’s hospital:
- Provide Exceptional Care Just for Kids
- Keep Our Region Strong and Healthy
- Advance Our Teaching and Research Mission
The next step will be to identify the signature funding priorities under each of these pillars that will drive the campaign, drawing from various stakeholders within your community. Ask these questions to draw out the best ideas to support the thematic framework:
What are the top three signature funding opportunities that support each theme? For each project, program, and initiative, please respond to the following:
- Identify and describe the project/program/initiative in no more than two paragraphs.
- How does the project/program/initiative advance our mission and vision?
- In what ways are we well-positioned, even uniquely positioned, to carry out this work?
- Why is this project/program/initiative critical, even urgent, at this time?
- What is the expected impact of this project/program/initiative when fully realized—and how will you measure that impact?
- What level of philanthropy is needed to advance this project/program/initiative?
- Provide specific examples of how these funds will be used. For example, a pledge of $10,000 will … A pledge of $1,000,000 will … A pledge of $250,000 will …
What Your Case Is Not, and What Can Go Wrong
- The case is not a declaration of need. Donors aren’t driven by need; they are inspired by vision. They want to invest in something durable rather than “throw a rope.”
- It is not a writing exercise. Yes, you will eventually put thoughts to paper, or into cyberspace, but the case is a rationale, not a printed piece or digital deck.
- It is not a defense of your board’s conviction that you need a campaign.
- It is not a celebration of your centennial or another anniversary marker. Your enduring history may be commendable, but it is not a reason for anyone to support you moving forward.
- Even if you are not planning a campaign, you must be able to articulate why your organization matters and why philanthropy is a necessary part of achieving your goals.
- The messenger is as important as the message. Everyone associated with your organization should be able to state the essential components of the case: Why us? Why you? Why now?
- The process of case development can be an important and unifying exercise for your organization. Involve all key stakeholders to foster awareness, buy-in, and ownership.
- You don’t have the credibility to promote a campaign externally among donor prospects if you don’t first excite your internal stakeholders, starting with your board.