Recently, I attended an event celebrating my friend Michelle’s 10th anniversary as the development director of Legal Voice, an extraordinary women’s rights advocacy organization. Let’s just say they’re super busy these days with no shortage of alarming issues to respond to. But, as their Executive Director made clear right from hello, everything they do is about long-term systemic change.
By the time I got my coat off and ordered a beer it was obvious this organization is soulfully clear on its purpose. Every person in that room got it — the love, meaning, and gratification of being part of a family of change makers. That and the jojo’s (my friend hails from Ohio) filled me up.
I’m smitten by a deep sense of purpose. Aren’t you? We’re wired to notice it. It’s irresistible.
So how do we build a culture that connects us to that pulse of purpose and to a loving invitation to be part of our movement from the moment anyone walks through that door?
Welcome to my series on culture building where I share powerful and proven tools that enable you to create more of what you want (anything in this list grab you?) by paying attention to what matters.
- More revenue,
- Better employee retention,
- Stronger boards,
- Real change, and
First up? The Case for Support.
What is a Case for Support?
Your Case for Support is a comprehensive articulation of why we should care. The Case captures the issue in the community that your organization is responding to, your vision and goals for change, your plan for making that change, and why your organization is credible to successfully fulfill that plan.
This is not a quick two-page, bulleted PDF. That comes later. All sorts of “case products” in various sizes and formats, including grant proposals, websites, major donor proposals, event speeches, etc., draw from your Case. Rather, your Case is a long-form, internal document, your mega FAQ, a repository of your strongest answers to external facing donor and general questions. You will be polishing, and turning to it again and again.
Your Case should reflect your organization’s best thinking. It should align with your strategic plan and with your leadership team’s best wisdom. It should make the program staff smile. It should inspire your fundraising team.
Developing Your Case: The Process
The process of developing a great Case for Support is as important as the final product. To the extent that your organization has not fully articulated what you are asking funders and donors to support, your fearless fundraising professional often serves as Case Custodian in Chief. Wearing multiple hats -– researcher, departmental liaison, program planner, project manager, detective, cajoler, editor –- s/he/they leads the organization to harvest its best thinking around the story of impact. Top leadership’s job is to help ensure the Case is a visible and shared organizational priority.
A strong Case assumes your Board and staff are aligned around a comprehensive strategic plan. If you have no strategic plan, here is some reading to start that conversation.
In the typical pressure-cooker environment of a nonprofit or government agency, it is tempting (and all too common) to defer development of your Case, to instead charge someone to churn out proposals to fit whatever a funder or powerful donor wants to hear. We direct communications professionals to craft the annual report, brochures, or other key communications with little foundational guidance. Without a Case, you are submitting proposals and communicating on the hope that you can “iron out inconsistencies and inaccuracies later.” The organization tells the donor what she wants to hear and then, most often, gets found out. “Did we promise to serve 500 veterans when realistically we can only serve 150?” This is how you harm your organization’s reputation, poison the relationship with a donor, make staff look back, and, most importantly, sell out the beneficiaries you might have helped.
Make sure what you communicate and promise is accurate and aligned. Senior leaders, you must empower fundraising leadership to internally align what you do with whatever you promise in the community.
Case for Support Homework
In the graduate fundraising course I teach, the very first assignment my students tackle is to pick a nonprofit they feel passionate about and use public sources to draft a Case for Support. I ask them to use the headings in the outline below, and to simply draft or copy and paste narrative responses they can find into each heading. We then workshop the gaps in class.
As staff, you have a great deal more to draw on:
- Recent grant proposals;
- Coffee meetings with program staff;
- Board presentations of your program scorecard;
- Text from the executive director’s speech from the gala;
- The long-form version of your strategic framework and program plan;
After you’ve compiled the language by heading, begin your critical review. What are the gaps in your argument? What questions can you anticipate donors having? Who should be involved in addressing these gaps and answering these questions? Sleuth out answers and craft your text accordingly.
All assertions of fact and/or statistics must be accompanied by appropriate citations along with links to the source material wherever possible. You don’t want to have to spend hours hunting for the source of a key data point on poverty that anchors a key element of your Case. Be ready to back up what you say.
- Issue Overview: Define the community problem you are solving. What is the community issue your organization’s work is focused on?
- What is your vision statement: What will be so if you’ve been 100% successful?
- What is your mission: What is your organization’s role in advancing your vision?
- What are your values: What are the principles/standards/norms that guide your behavior, decisions, and actions, big and small?
- What external conditions need to be in place to make your vision possible: What are the most crucial factors that must be addressed to create the conditions for change?
- What specific strategies is your organization employing to create these conditions for success: What approaches are you taking to create the conditions for change?
- Theory of Action/Change: How will your organization’s strategies make change? Can you summarize how your approach translates to actual impact?
- How does your organization track progress toward desired impact: What indicators are you tracking to determine whether you are on course?
- Organization history/Genesis story: What is the story of how your organization came to be?
- Cost of doing nothing/delaying: What makes this work so urgent right now?
- Organization Leadership: Who are the key staff and board leaders? What is their background? How are your organization’s leaders well-positioned to help advance the goals of the organization?
- Community Connection/Partnerships: What organizations are partnering with you to increase your reach, or make your work more effective than it would be were you acting alone?
- Overall Budget – Financial Model: How is your organization financed overall? How does your organization invest its resources? % Admin? % Fundraising? % Program?
- Program Overview: Pick a program area to describe in detail. Is this a new program or a proven solution? Why is your approach effective? If a long-time program, what kind of track record does it have and how might it now break new ground? What sparked the development of this programmatic approach?
- Program Goals and Objectives: What are the major goals and specific measurable objectives for this program?
- Program Financial Metrics: What is the annual budget allocation for this program? What does it cost to deliver this program per program recipient? Are there any metrics related to financial return-on-investment you can cite?
- Project Timeline: What is the timeline for the project? Is your project 3-years, 1-year, 6-months? What are the important steps/milestones of the project for the funding period?
- Specific Project Costs: For the project period, what are the project costs including portion of ongoing admin, overall program costs, and specific additional project costs?
- Project Budget Narrative: How will you spend the money (exactly)?
- Sustainability Strategy: What is this organization’s plan for sustaining/scaling this program long term?
- APPENDICES: What other supporting material, articles, data, or anecdotal account lend evidence to the effectiveness of your work?
Big Questions and Great Conversations
All this stuff I’ve written here? I did not get it from a book. I learned it by scrapping it out in the real world of sourcing support for my cause. As a consultant, what amazes me sometimes is the degree to which organizations wait for the consultant to show up to have the important conversations. The Case process is one way to identify your big questions, and start having those great conversations now.
What big questions need exploring? Who needs to be part of this conversation? How can we engage them? What will it take to have the conversations and decide what needs deciding to make the extraordinary work we are doing as irresistibly compelling as possible? If you need a coach to support a strategic planning refresh, to design and facilitate crucial conversations with board and staff, or just to help you develop a strong Case for Support, let’s talk. I can help.
This is culture building. This is leading. Stay tuned for more!
Where are you with your Case for Support? What cultural challenges are your confronting? Thanks for your ideas, comments, and questions below!
What’s your vision, what’s your plan? Andrea’s mission is to evoke the moral imagination of nonprofit leaders (and occasionally the person sitting next to her on light rail) to create the world we all want. A strategic planning geek, she guides organizations through customized planning processes, resource development interventions, mergers, and leadership transitions.
Check out some riveting stories from her travels here.