The Need, The Case--The Why You Are Supported
It’s called the need or problem statement when you are writing a grant. For individual donors, it’s the case you make—showing why they would want to support your organization, cause, program or project. Whatever you call it, it starts by identifying the problem that needs to be solved. When you are writing a grant, you must quantify the situation. It’s not enough to say, “Many suffer.” You must tell us how many or what percentage of what part of the population.
For individuals, you have to paint a picture, and to do that often requires that you personalize the story. “Many” or 1,386, is too vague for most of us to get our arms around. Twenty –two percent is even more off-putting. But a named individual (or a fluffy kitten or sleek puppy) will definitely pull at the heart strings.
Either way, tell us the story. What is happening now: The homeless population in our community is aging, mirroring trends in the general population. A quarter of those on the streets every night are over 62. Almost 30% of our elderly adults are in danger of losing their homes and ending up on the streets.
For most of her adult life, Sarai lived in a neat, 3-bedroom home on our city’s north side. Then, five years ago, at age 58, Sarai lost her job. And then she lost her husband. She also lost his health benefits and the small life insurance policy his company held on him, barely paid the funeral expenses. With no pension, Sarai pinches pennies to make her small social security check stretch. But one emergency, and Sarai may lose even more.
As you can see, the stories are similar, but oh so different.
Making the case, stating the need is the start. But it cannot end there.
The next part is broadly showing what your organization wants to do (or does) to make a change in the situation. Don’t get trapped into talking about how you will make a difference—only talk about what that difference is: Affordable housing; emergency loans; whatever your solution is, state it simply and clearly.
Then show us what the situation will look like once the grant has been given, the gift has been made.
Senior Housing, a 42-unit apartment complex near public transportation, will provide affordable housing for up to 80 at-risk seniors.
Bank Roll provides emergency funds for seniors like Sarai.
Finally, you must connect the dots. With grants, you should do that at the front end. Your research and experience must guide you to submit proposals and LOI’s only to those funders whose areas of interest dissect yours. You don’t need—and I would recommend against—saying in your proposal that this project fits their funding priorities. That should be, must be, a given. You wouldn’t send a proposal to help keep seniors housed to a private foundation that supports teens and works to keep them in school!
With individuals, you should also know interest areas before you make an ask. When you are focused on larger gifts and those asks are very personal, you must take the time to cultivate your prospects and donors. Most of what you do as you get them ready to make that (next) gift, is to learn about their values, interests, desires. By the time you make an ask, you should have vetted that the project is something they care about and the amount is something they are willing to at least consider. And you must know what they want to get from their gift, not just how they want to be recognized but what their motivation for making this gift is.
With smaller gifts, your fundraising is often arms-length. Some assumptions must be made, such as assuming that they are on your list because at some point they showed an interest in your cause or in the work you do. And you must assume that they will make a gift if you can motivate them to feel that they will make a difference.
This is where it can get tricky. Your appeal must connect your prospects directly to the difference their gift will help to make. Too many nonprofits ask donors to give so they—the organization—can do something. Show your donors what they do, how their gift will help Sarai stay in her home; how their support makes that difference.
Making your case is simply explaining why something should be done. When you are talking to funders, that something is your project; for individuals that something should be focused on what they will accomplish by making a gift of support.
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