How to Write a Great Case Statement for 21st Century Donors

Group of people designing a brochure.
••• Laura Doss/Corbis/Getty Images

Every fundraising campaign has a case statement at its center. Your case statement sets out the argument for supporting your cause. The term "case statement" seems today a tad old-fashioned. We often refer to this document as a "case for support."

The cool thing about today's case for support is that it is no longer a dry, dull document that fundraisers hate to write and donors hate to read.

They have become amazing stories that captivate and entrance. You might not even recognize them as case statements. They come disguised in many forms, such as a beautiful brochure, a delightful annual report, or, as one creative firm likes to call them, gratitude reports. These days, a case for support can even be a website.

A great case statement can also be one or two pages that capture the gist of the need, the cure, and the call to action for donors. At its most basic, the case explains why you need the money and how the donor will benefit from giving.

Case statements can be used in any fundraising campaign. They are particularly useful in major gift campaigns, capital campaigns, and endowment campaigns.

Who is the case statement for?

Your case statement should appeal to a wide range of your stakeholders. It should work for both external and internal audiences. Most important, your case should be as understandable to your organization's receptionist as it is to your wealthiest prospective donor.

What questions should the case statement answer?

Bernard Ross and Clare Segal, authors of "The Influential Fundraiser," point out that a good case needs to respond to these five fundamental questions:

  1. What is the need?
    1. State the need precisely. What it is, and who exactly will benefit by meeting that need. Be sure to make the need manageable so that supporters feel that they can make a difference. Global poverty is too big for an individual to get his arms around. He may be able to save a person or help a family. Keep your cause manageable and know what causes donors to turn away, even when the need is great.
  2. How can you tell this is a pressing need?
    1. Make it clear that the need is now, and urgent. Include surveys, expert opinions, or statements from the people who need help.
  3. How is your organization uniquely qualified to tackle this need?
    1. While there may be several nonprofits that could deal with this issue, what is unique about you? Is it your track record, the innovative nature of your approach?
  4. What will be the benefits of your action?
    1. If you act now, what will be the positive consequences, both major and minor? However, be realistic. What can be guaranteed, and what is possible?
  5. What are the negative consequences if you fail?
    1. Sometimes this is the most potent motivator for donors, so lay out the major and minor adverse effects if you do not act.

What Your Case Statement Should Look Like

Today’s donors expect a visually stunning presentation. They want to be able to understand your mission and your story through images. They prefer to flip through a publication, reading captions and call-outs.

Once a donor grasps your overall mission and story through the visuals, they likely will read the details. Capture donors first with a story told through vivid imagery and then persuade them with text that is simple and easy to understand.

Don’t forget the power of infographics to simplify the facts. Statistics work best when they stand out as part of a gripping infographic.

Don’t worry about the length of your case statement. However, do go longer rather than shorter. Remember that you will use parts of the case in a variety of settings, from a quote or photo in your newsletter to a PowerPoint presentation.

The case statement serves as your source document for all of the materials that you may use throughout a campaign or even over an extended period. You can and should throw everything but the kitchen sink into your draft of the case statement. Afterward, you can and should shorten, polish, refine and excerpt at will.

Don’t overlook just how important your case statement should be. Don’t try to cut corners. Hire an excellent designer to put together your publication or the case for support section of your website. Consider using a professional writer to craft the text. Find a professional photographer for the images, and don’t stint on the quality of all your presentations.

What You Should Avoid in Your Case Statement

Ross and Segal say that cases are too often internally focused. They are too long. Moreover, they are too static.

Write your case for your donors and supporters, not your internal audience. Make the "nut" of your argument straightforward and easy to understand.

Don't fix your case in stone. Major donors, particularly, will not want to see a complete plan to fund. They want to be involved in its development. Give them space to contribute their ideas, thus strengthening their engagement.

Use your case for support to guide your other fundraising materials, such as your direct mail materials, brochures, PowerPoint presentations, grant proposals, emails, news releases, and newsletters. Even periodic fundraising events such as a corporate-sponsored charity contest, a fundraising athletic event, or an online peer-to-peer campaign will all benefit from your case for support. Having your case in place early makes all that writing and preparation so much easier no matter the form your fundraising takes.

Write the Best Case Statement

Remember that, as Gail Terry Grimes says, "a case statement is not a campaign brochure." Then, read as many as case statements as you can. Fortunately, case statements are easy to find. You can see some of the best at The Case Writers - Case Statements & Gratitude Reports.