Writing the ideal Case for Support is not something that comes intuitively—after a lifetime of learning at school, university and in the workplace to write formal essays, reports and business documents, it takes a substantial shift in gears to write in the style most compelling to a prospective donor.
Underscoring Pamela and Jane’s reflections in Your story is your success, it is critical to focus on the concept of ‘story’—that ancient tradition of human communication, designed specifically to evoke emotion. Why is this important? Because it’s emotion, not reason, that is the key driver of charitable giving. People give because of the way you make them feel. And you cannot make people feel with a formal business document.
With this in mind, here are 10 Top Tips to get you in the right frame of mind for writing a winning Case:
- Get in the zone
I always find it helpful, when starting out, to re-read advice on how to write a great Case—this helps me key into the mental space of emotion and energy necessary to circumvent the ‘formal voice’. Tom Ahern is my go-to guru for this, and his books are a brilliant, quick guide to the primary elements of writing a compelling Case.
- Interview for multiple perspectives
When writing for your own organisation, you will almost certainly suffer from the ‘curse of too much knowledge’ and the inability to see the actual power of your story. Always interview at least four to six individuals within your organisation to see it with ‘fresh eyes’. You’ll not only get a much better 360-degree view of your topic, but also the spontaneous, powerful responses that add colour and impact to your content. Also think about interviewing the beneficiaries of your activities—e.g. your students or alumni, your patients, your patrons, etc.
- Listen for the ‘goose-bumps story’
During the interview stage, I know I’ve struck gold when I hear a story that literally gives me goose bumps—invariably, this is THE story that gives me the angle for the three critical elements of a successful Case: priority need, urgency and impact. Your own physiological response may be different, but learn to recognise it when it happens, because this is the content that will move your donors.
- Use warm, emotive and aspirational language
Your aim is to connect with both the heart and imagination of your donors. This means using language to evoke feelings, a sense of personal connection, and inspirational vision. This is often easier to achieve if you imagine you are writing to your mother, a friend, or perhaps an actual donor you know—this also helps remove a barrier between you and the reader and allows you to write from a more personal place.
- Don’t steal the credit from your donors
While it’s important to establish the credibility of your organisation and its capability for delivering the solution you are describing, make sure you ALWAYS give credit to the donor for making this possible. Time and again in fundraising communications, organisations fall into the trap of self-importance; however, it should never be, ‘Give to us and WE will achieve these amazing things’, but instead, ‘Give to us and YOU will achieve these amazing things’. Get into the habit of constantly using the personal pronoun ‘you’ to place your donor at the centre of effect.
- People give to people
It’s a fundraising cliché but it continues to be true. The way you describe impact should always be at the level of how you are changing lives. At a girls’ school, for example, it’s not about having shiny new technology-focused teaching spaces; it’s about why STEM education is vitally important to young women in the 21st century and how they will use this education to change the world. Or how scholarships help lift Indigenous students out of a cyclical existence of poverty and despair.
- Research beyond your organisation/institution
Again, the curse of too much knowledge can stop us from seeing the big picture of our organisation’s mission and vision, and the factual detail that would help us make the strongest possible Case—for example, did you know that NOT having women engineers can lead to critical design flaws, such as the early male-designed airbags that resulted in avoidable deaths for female and child passengers? THIS is the argument for supporting STEM education for girls. Google is an invaluable tool when you need the evidence to support your ‘why’.
- The ideal structure
Having the right structure for your Case will also help hit the right notes in reaching your audience. Ideally, like all good stories, your Case should take your reader on a journey: first setting up the problem and challenge, then presenting the solution, and how your reader (the hero) will make it happen. A very effective and simple structure looks something like this:
- The Problem/Challenges
- Why Now? (why it is urgent to solve this problem)
- Why Us? (what makes our organisation uniquely capable of tackling this problem)
- The Solution (how, with your help, we will solve the problem)
- The Investment (the philanthropic contribution required, in the context of other funding sources)
- The Benefits (the impact donors will make with their support)
- Conclusion (a last appeal to the greater vision)
- Are YOU excited?
After drafting your Case (or during), read it aloud to yourself, repeatedly. Are you excited? Did you think, ‘Wow, I’m glad I work at this amazing organisation!’? No? You need to do some re-writing! Assess the paragraphs that are dry, written in the passive voice, or overly technical, and re-write them. Every paragraph should hum with energy. Keep re-drafting and re-reading it aloud until you feel like a Shakespearean actor!
- Always test your Case with an external audience
When you are happy with your first draft, test it on an external audience of at least four to six people; or, if it’s the basis for campaign feasibility testing, 25 to 40 individuals. Interview your test audience on their responses, to find out what resonates, what needs more detail, or a more persuasive argument, etc. This is the perfect opportunity to gather the feedback that will really make your Case sing!
Once you’ve revised your draft to incorporate the valuable new content, you’re ready to turn your Case into beautiful published print and digital materials to inspire and motivate your donors.
Global Philanthropic Senior Consultant Chanel Hughes is a professional Case writer and specialist in Annual Giving and Bequest collateral. Contact us at [email protected]