The Case of the Changing Case

Eons ago, when I graduated from college, I had visions of earning my living as a writer.  Eating and rent, however, were high on my list of must haves, so I took a job as magazine editor and freelanced, writing whatever anyone would pay for. Mostly that was cheesy articles for cheesier magazines—True Romance, For Men Only, Stag, were among my staples.  I also did quite a bit of corporate writing and a bit of stuff for nonprofits.

Some that bit of stuff was case statements.  These were big, glossy productions that told potential donors about the organization—its history, its mission, its successes—and the reasons for which they were raising money now.  Typically these documents were written at the start of a capital campaign, and there was much copy about the new or renovated buildings that the donors’ support would build.

Organizations still write case statements that their development staff mail out to prospects and they and their volunteers bring to prospect meetings, hoping that this will make or cement the sale.

I’m doubtful.  In my experience, these documents mainly end up being truly left behind by the prospect, tossed in the trash or—on occasion—shoved onto a shelf, never to be looked at.

And while there are always exceptions to every case, I think it is really important for an organization—especially smaller, less well resourced ones—to consider where their time and money is best spent.

I’m not completely against case statements.  In fact, I think internal cases are vital.  This is the document that should inform all aspects of messaging about the organization.  It is what you would give your grant writer as the first thing he or she must read before any grant proposal is attempted.  All Board members should have their own copies and periodically at Board meetings you should review a section.  Staff should not just read it but have a big part in writing it.

The internal case statement defines how the organization thinks about itself—what is important, its shared history, how the work it does has and will continue to impact its community.

It’s the one document that doesn’t allow anyone who is intimately involved with the organization to say, “I didn’t know that,” about anything of import.  And for that reason, it really has to be a living document that is reviewed with regularity and updated whenever necessary.  When that happens, everyone who needs to know must be immediately informed about the change.

Once you have this internal case statement, then you may want to think about an external one. For that case statement, you must look outward.  Nonprofits have a bad habit of talking to ourselves.  We talk at our prospects and donors, not with them.  Our case statements tend, therefore, to focus on what we think is important and why we need their support.

To have a compelling external case, you have to consider why your organization and your project might matter to anyone outside of your inner circle.  And to find that out, you are going to have to get out there and have conversations—you know, that give and take where you learn at least as much about them as they are learning about you.  You’ll have to ask questions, probe answers, listen openly and completely.

As you do that, you might find that you’ve just made the best case statement possible.

 Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at there, sign up for the newsletter.