An effective case for support is a must-have for any organization that relies on donations to get its work done and make a difference in its community. Your case underpins all of your messaging and is a tool that can be actively used to engage different audiences and motivate action in support of your mission.
Part of making a compelling case for anything is telling a story. It’s common knowledge today that storytelling is among the most effective ways to connect with an audience and deliver content in a way that’s catchy, resonant, and memorable.
But what does storytelling mean in practice? How can it inform your nonprofit’s case for support to drive stronger results for your campaigns, marketing efforts, and solicitations? Let’s take a closer look.
What’s a case for support?
A case for support is your nonprofit’s core message, essentially answering the questions, “Why is your organization worth supporting, and what impact does it have?” Your case should show potential donors (or volunteers, sponsors, or other partners) what you’ll be able to accomplish with their support. It’s a set of arguments and details that can be distilled into many digital and printed forms.
Your case will naturally expand on your mission statement by going further into the specifics of your work and impact. Consider this example:
- An animal shelter’s mission statement might be:
- To provide lifesaving care, shelter, and forever homes to homeless pets in our community.
- The core message of your case for support would detail how you enact your mission:
- Donations make a life-changing difference for homeless pets. With your help, our shelter can provide critical veterinary care, nutritious food, and safe housing for pets in need. Our adoption center helps match pets with loving families, and our community programming educates and raises awareness about proper pet care. In the past year alone, we’ve found loving homes for over 300 cats and dogs— and with your help, we can continue to rescue and care for more pets in need.
A complete case for support should include details that illustrate your nonprofit’s big-picture vision, priorities, impact, and unique voice. From there, it can be expanded and refined to fit all kinds of situations. You may create different versions for these use cases:
- A general case for support to anchor your messaging on key web pages and be adapted into new forms for different purposes
- A campaign-specific case for support, like for a major capital campaign that requires distinctive messaging and branding
- Audience- or segment-specific cases for support to guide your marketing and stewardship efforts
- Program-specific cases for support to further focus your messaging, like for a hospital’s grateful patient program or a nonprofit’s planned giving society
When written well, your case for support can be an extremely flexible tool that takes the guesswork out of connecting with potential donors. You’ll have a helpful baseline message to expand, refine, and (for the best results) infuse with emotionally-resonant storytelling details.
Telling the Story: 5 Tips
1. Establish your story’s essentials.
All stories need a few essential elements to connect with an audience. As you develop a case for support, consider how it will include:
- A conflict or challenge. What’s the specific problem your nonprofit works to address? How is it reflected in the day-to-day challenges faced by constituents?
- Characters. Who’s involved in your story? Your nonprofit, constituents, and donors should all be included somehow, although your constituents might be symbolized in a single figure. A donor might also be more of an implied character whose involvement enables your nonprofit to empower your constituent figure.
- Key actions. What happens in the story? How will characters interact with the conflict, and what are their roles in addressing it?
When infusing story into your case for support, be mindful not to present constituents as powerless or over-center donors as the most important figures. The nuances in how you frame your story should reflect your values and priorities, and it should show that your organization has a powerful role to play beyond simply accepting donations and allocating resources.
2. Gather diverse stakeholder perspectives.
When you’re developing stories to tell about your nonprofit’s work, look beyond your immediate internal perspective. Everyone involved has a different view of the many stories that play out around your mission, and these different versions can help your cases for support feel more full, well-rounded, and emotionally resonant.
Talk first and foremost to constituents about their direct experiences with your organization—the ways they felt before engaging with your nonprofit, how they’ve interacted with it since then, how their lives have changed as a result, and more. With their permission, these testimonials make powerful assets to include across your other donor-facing materials beyond your case for support.
From there, talk to donors about why they choose to give and what your cause means to them. Understanding their perspective and motivations is important because, after all, the purpose of your case for support is to inspire donations. Nonprofit Volunteers, staff, and members of the broader community also have important perspectives to share that can be integrated into your stories.
3. Tailor your approach to your audience.
As mentioned above, you’ll create different versions of your case for support for different purposes, like for a specific campaign or segment of your donor base. Consider who you’re seeking to motivate and tailor the details or angle of the story you’re telling to best engage them. Here are two examples:
- A healthcare institution is developing a case for support for its grateful patient fundraising program. This audience will likely be interested in empowering more life-changing work by helping the institution overcome the challenge of limited resources.
- A private school is launching a capital campaign to expand its facilities. The campaign’s lead donors will be interested in how gifts to this specific project will drive significant, concrete impact, reflected in details like increased student capacity.
Anytime you’re launching a new campaign, take the time to consider how the core story of your general case for support could best be adapted to suit your current goals.
4. Tell a full story with data.
To be truly compelling, a story needs more than characters and an arc. Fleshing it out with tangible details will make your story real to your potential donors and make it easier for them to imagine their own involvement. Continually gather and analyze data that illustrates:
- Your organization’s needs
- The scope of the problem your mission addresses
- The makeup and state of your constituents and community
- Your impact so far
- Your projected impact
Quantitative details flesh out any story and take it to the next level of impact. And while you don’t want your case for support to read like a dry section of your annual report by including too many, using a handful of focused, illustrative metrics can go a long way to reinforce what you’re trying to convey—the challenge at hand and how your organization is positioned to help.
5. Seek professional guidance.
A solid case for support is immensely valuable and can be continuously reused and adapted as an asset to strengthen your connections with donors.
Whether you’re working to develop your very first case for support or preparing for a capital campaign, you want to ensure your case for support is as strong as it can be. This is especially true since it’s a foundational document that will inform tons of other marketing, fundraising, and communication materials.
This is why many nonprofits turn to fundraising professionals to help develop or refine their cases for support. Expert guidance from the start can help you rest easy knowing that you’re building on solid ground.
If professional help sounds like a wise investment for your organization, look for specialized providers—healthcare fundraising consultants, education development experts, etc. Their experience and perspective can help your case tell the perfect story that connects with donors.
Infusing your case for support with emotionally resonant storytelling strategies
Your nonprofit’s case for support is among the most important materials you’ll develop, one that can be endlessly adapted and refined to suit different audiences and goals. But never lose sight
of the fact that the purpose of your case is to connect with people, and people relate to stories.
By infusing your case for support with emotionally resonant storytelling strategies, backing it up with fundraising best practices, and seeking expert help as needed, you’ll be able to lay out a
compelling, airtight case for why your nonprofit is the one to support.