Writing a powerful case
Every not-for-profit needs a Case for Support. It is the cornerstone of all fundraising campaigns and provides a portfolio of your organization’s amazing accomplishments. A Case for Support will describe your organization, inventory its achievements, demonstrate the need for funds, promote the cause and raise the organization’s profile overall.
In addition, it can serve as an internal resource for your organization’s communications, marketing, training and planning documentation. Because it is a summary of all that you are and all the wonderful things that you do, a Case for Support can be given to staff and volunteers alike so that they may properly communicate the organization’s mission, vision and values when interacting with others. Think of it as a reference text, or the “company bible.”
Researching and writing a Case for Support is always time well-spent, because a case can be repurposed and repackaged to suit other needs, such as case statements and “micro cases” tailored to specific campaigns. It can morph into a case summary for a grant proposal or lend content to major gift letters and other fundraising communications. When writing the case, however, never lose sight of its true purpose – to garner support for your organization, both moral and monetary.
Fundraising doesn’t just happen. Your organization isn’t so well-endowed with visibility and funding that it can afford not to pay attention to what it takes to operate a great fund development initiative. Every organization must have a collection of activities through which donors and other supporters can help the organization.
Your fundraising strategy or “the plan,” addresses the dollars the organization requires over a period of time (arguably five years) from fundraising, sponsorship, and in-kind activity to deliver its programs and services. It outlines and organizes fundraising in terms of leadership, lines of authority, and types of fundraising that your organization can realistically do. It sets out the responsibilities of staff, governance and fundraising volunteers. It recommends action that is ambitious and sufficiently demanding to guard against complacency and inactivity.
The “ideal” plan will revolve around classic fundraising, organized by committees of volunteers and supported by staff. Major gift fundraising focuses on priority areas like special programs and services, capital building or renovation needs. Money from annual giving initiatives (special events, third party fundraising, gaming, and an internal campaign) will support ongoing costs. A planned giving initiative completes the fundraising program.
Who doesn’t love a party? To many of us, an event can represent the most exhilarating and challenging aspect of the fundraising year. But events are more than just a fun diversion from the day-to-day of our usual jobs. Events are expensive and work-intensive. They can sap the energy of staff, donors, and even key stakeholders. That said, when done right, nothing reaches and connects with people more effectively and powerfully than an event.
Events arguably will help build the profile of your organization and this enhanced profile may expose the cause to new and bigger audiences – ultimately advocating for your cause and raising more money.
Events also help you to position your organization as different from the competition. For example, there are many cancer charities and causes. What makes any given one different? Your event should bring that difference to life in a clear and positive way. As powerful experiences, events will often mobilize attendees to act on behalf of your cause. Attendees may be driven to speak about your social issue to their networks, or even start volunteering for your organization. The individual that starts off working at the coat check at a gala could evolve into a long-term, weekly volunteer for your nonprofit, based solely on their experience at your event.
Donor recognition and stewardship:
Lessons learned the hard way
Imagine yourself taking two octogenarians on a tour of “their” hospital and its sadly outdated maternity unit (it’s a cultivation tour). They requested to see the room they affectionately dedicated to their long-deceased parents. This was long before Blackberries, so I did not have the time or ability to call the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to let them know I would be bringing the donors that funded part of the Unit to see the result of their very generous gift – suddenly turning this into a stewardship visit.
Had I been able to initiate contact, I would have learned and spared them, and I, the incredible shock and disappointment of seeing that their significant donation to furnish a life-saving ICU suite had become a dark and dismal storage room for broken furniture and outdated intensive care equipment. I felt their loss of trust, disappointment, and saw the hurt on their faces; almost as if something dishonest had happened.
In fact – it had. In good faith, they made a significant pledge, and paid it in full, to the hospital and the Foundation. A plaque was installed bearing their name, and the names of their beloved deceased parents, for all to witness. Unfortunately, the nurses, physicians, maintenance department and even administration of ICU were probably not aware of the agreement made between these donors and the Foundation.
Despite happening fifteen years ago, the look on their faces haunts me to this day, and has inspired me to try to implement better stewardship plans, policies and then – to actually follow through on them. The questions arising from this sad encounter stay with me and are forefront every time I create a gift agreement. I hope I can help others avoid the loss of a donor’s trust by sharing some simple and yet critical questions.
Charities, almost by definition raise funds to some extent or another. For many charities, the funds raised through donations, events and “drives” are the only money that the organization has to fund its good work. Because fundraising is so integral to the health of a charity, planning and implementation has to start at the top – with the board and senior management. Fundraising is a team sport and the establishment of a permanent fundraising team (not an ad hoc committee) is essential to success.
A VIGILANT FUNDRAISER ACTIVELY RECRUITS THE SKILLS THAT ARE NEEDED
This is perhaps the most dramatic shift from past practice – moving towards recruitment of volunteers, as you would recruit paid workers. We want to hire for skills, instead of taking the first warm body to walk through the door to fill a position, or scrambling to find something – anything – for a volunteer to do to keep them busy. We want to create a job description for a certain task and recruit for skills related to that task.
If you want to attract and keep good volunteers for your organization, you’re going to have to create a program that recognizes what it is that motivates volunteers, and design positions that are desirable. Volunteers are too busy and too demanding – and there are too many other choices for them out there.
Train volunteers on
“making the ask”
Asking for money is the single most important function of a fundraising volunteer, but it is also one of the most stress-inducing and difficult tasks for a volunteer who is not fully prepared. Many capable people find soliciting gifts extremely difficult and even embarrassing. Because of this, every charity should make training fundraising volunteers a special priority.
Volunteers who are comfortable, motivated and confident get the biggest gifts in any campaign. Whether your volunteers have been with your organization for a long time or are newly recruited, it is important that everyone has the same understanding of how to “make the ask.”
While education should be ongoing, it is essential that a formal training session be held before every campaign effort, and for each new volunteer.
Are you able to easily produce an accurate list of your key stakeholders, your most loyal donors and your best prospects? I don’t mean the list you mentally keep track of and rhyme off based on anecdotal evidence; I mean a list of key constituents based on a set of quantitative criteria and characteristics that anyone in the organization can recreate at any moment in time. And does that list contain accurate biographical information, giving history, past interactions and future intentions? Or do you need to reference paper files and staff member’s memories?
Essentially, what is the status of your data?
We live in an age of personalization and customization. Gone are the days when unaddressed solicitations and thank-you form letters are acceptable to donors. Failure to know and understand your key stakeholders (present and future) hampers your ability to meet and exceed the goals of your organization. The collection and analysis of data provides us with the chance to optimize opportunities, exploit cost-saving measures and provides us with the ability to make decisions based on quantifiable information.
The philanthropic philosopher’s stone
If I had one beef with the common assumption fellow fundraisers have about “planned giving” peers it’s that planned giving fundraisers are tax-sorcerers and mathematical magicians. Herb Gale of the Presbyterian Church and Jeff Pym of the Waterloo Seminary College at Laurier gave a wonderful seminar at a Canadian Association of Gift Planners’ annual conference that touched on this strategic misnomer. They gave the audience a history of the “philosopher’s stone,” the element sought for centuries that would help turn useless lead into gold. It was also sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. Much like legacy philanthropy is often described.
It’s not magic.
Desire to Give + Tax and Estate Planning = Legacy Philanthropy.
Why you need a plan
Some wise person once wrote that developing a fundraising program without an effective communications plan to go with it, is like winking at a member of the opposite sex in the dark.
Only you know what you are doing and you can’t see if it’s having any effect.
In spite of this, countless organizations launch into major capital or project-based campaigns without having planned out, and implemented, a comprehensive communications program that will build their brand, raise their profile, tell their story, connect with donors on an emotional level and explain why they need money and how they will spend it.
Marketing through a newsletter:
It’s about donor engagement
For many charities, creating a newsletter is their first step to promoting their organization and is used as a means to engage their best and most loyal donors in their fund development program. In recent years, and with the advent of digital technologies, this type of engagement has become viewed as “old fashioned” and too expensive. Why not just drive users to the organizational website? Or, get them to follow tweeted updates on Twitter? Or, become friends on Facebook? But the fact is that these new media – although exciting and filled with low-cost potential do not work for most not-for-profits when used in isolation.
A newsletter remains the cornerstone to an integrated “brand publishing” approach. What a not-for-profit wishes to accomplish through its marketing – and needs to achieve at as low a cost as possible – is engagement of their stakeholders with what the organization does.
The ‘C’ change:
Making the case for creative
Like waves in the ocean, it’s relentless and it’s constant. Change is ever-flowing. Change is ever-changing. For years, communication professionals have been trying to catch the wave only to be overwhelmed by a surge of water seeking to drown them. Destroy them. Pound them into the surf and sand.
Overly dramatic? Maybe yes. Maybe no.
Think back to the days of yore, to the days when Madison Avenue (or Toronto’s Bloor Street) really did rule. Advertising told us what to believe and we did. We were sold. But those days are gone and marketing has struggled to regain its footing ever since.
Of course, in the nonprofit sector we’ve never had the upper hand in terms of our communications. Where consumer brands have traditionally looked down on their consumers, we’ve always been the opposite, looking up from bended knee, asking (or begging) for a few dollars more. But even in the charitable sector things have been changing at an increasingly rapid rate.
In November 2012, Toronto and Calgary faced off in the annual Canadian Football League Grey Cup finals. The Ontario and Alberta Premiers made a public wager on the outcome of the game – the loser would donate 100 items of warm clothing to the winner’s chosen charity.
The Ontario Premier’s team won, and he selected the Red Door Family Shelter in Ontario. The unexpected gift provided the charity with the opportunity to raise its profile – both the Premier and offensive guard Joe Eppele of the Toronto Argonauts delivered the items to the shelter’s administrative office, warranting a press release, photographs, and unexpected media coverage.
It was the sort of pleasant surprise that couldn’t possibly have been part of the charity’s fundraising strategy. In this position, however, many a clever fundraiser could grasp the opportunity to build upon the positive profile. A few phone calls or letters could turn the gesture into a mini-campaign for short-term needs. The theme could be used for a recurring gifts drive. We can see it now: Football for Fleece! Touchdowns for Toques!