By Christina Yoon, Ph.D.
A nonprofit’s case for support is a fundamental document — the heart and soul of all fundraising efforts. It tells the organization’s story, sharing clear messages and inviting donors to contribute to a collective vision. From capital campaigns to the annual fund, the case forms the basis for all donor communications. Despite its critical importance, many nonprofits struggle with crafting a compelling case that staff and volunteers feel confident using across donor engagement contexts.
Attempting to articulate a complex story
For The Children’s Inn at NIH, communicating a succinct case for support has long been a challenge, and it emerged as a key area for improvement in our 2015 assessment of The Inn’s development program. An independent nonprofit located on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus, The Inn provides a supportive residential environment for families with children enrolled in NIH research studies.
Operating at the intersection of healthcare, medical research, and childhood development, the organization has the opportunity to appeal to several donor segments, but this also makes it difficult to articulate a cohesive case for support. Additionally, the “NIH” in The Inn’s name and its physical location on the NIH campus often confuses prospects, including NIH employees, who assume it’s funded by the government. How do you communicate the impact and philanthropic need of such a unique, multi-faceted organization? My colleagues and I partnered with The Inn’s fundraising staff to answer this question.
Taking a fresh approach to case development
We launched our work with a deep dive into The Inn’s fundraising and communications materials. Building on this knowledge base, we interviewed a cross section of The Inn’s stakeholders. By speaking with people who live and breathe The Inn’s mission, we were able to uncover the case’s nuances and remind interviewees why the organization is meaningful to them. During these interviews and our time on-site, five key areas of The Inn’s work emerged, and we collaborated to build its messaging platform around these concepts.
With the building blocks in place, we created the final case materials, starting with a master presentation deck — the fullest expression of the case that can be customized for individual conversations. To help volunteers prepare for donor conversations, we also created a cheat sheet, providing quick facts and top-level messages to weave into conversation. Finally, we designed a case brief as a “leave behind.” We used story-driven messaging and images to connect with the reader.
Leveraging this flexible set of materials, we conducted Board and all-staff trainings as the last step of the case development process. These sessions helped The Inn’s most important stakeholders connect their personal stories with the case, practice donor conversations, and understand their role in fundraising.
Changing how The Inn shares its story — for good
Going through this case development process has profoundly impacted The Inn. The organization now incorporates case messages into every communication channel. According to Chief Development and Communications Officer Fern Stone, “Even though we worked on our case for support prior to this effort, we had never been able to articulate messaging that was concise, memorable and inspiring. This process and the resulting deliverables have given our development staff a sense of confidence when conveying The Inn’s mission and vision.”
Chief Executive Officer Jennie Lucca adds: “The messages we developed with Campbell & Company have been game-changing. Thanks to the all-staff training, every member of our team uses the case messages in conversations with residents, supporters, and the broader community. For my part, I work them into my remarks each time I welcome volunteers or talk at an event.”
The fundraising metrics speak for themselves. Comparing FY17 to FY15, The Inn has seen:
- – Total giving increase by 17 percent
- – Number of donors rise 33 percent
- – Number of gifts increase by 39 percent
- – Direct mail income grow 40 percent
- – Major gifts income increase by 29 percent
These concrete gains demonstrate the impact of The Inn’s messaging. Moving forward, the organization plans to use the presentation deck in major donor conversations and leverage case messages to develop a new video. In every corner of The Inn, the case development process continues to transform the way its staff talks about the organization and how prospective donors understand its vital work.
Christina will present Develop a Compelling Case for Support That Your Staff and Board are Excited to See with Jennie Lucca and Fern Stone at the 12th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference, Aug. 2-4, at the Gaylord National Hotel, National Harbor, MD.
About the author
Christina Yoon, Vice President, Campbell & Company, is a dedicated nonprofit professional with more than 14 years experience in fundraising, working with world-class institutions, membership-based organizations and community-based nonprofits. She serves on the board of the DC chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and is co-chair of the Diversity Committee.