makingacaseAn excerpt from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, by Jerold Panas

I'm not a writer.

That's what makes me a good choice to write about case statements.

Let me explain.

I don't earn my bread and board with a pen but I love to write. Long ago I found in me cacoethes scribendi—the urge to scribble.

Sure, I've written case statements—scores of them. And I've edited, well, close to a thousand. That's no exaggeration.

But here's what's more important. I'm the one who actually has to use a case. I review them with leaders when I conduct feasibility studies and when calling on likely donors.

I'd like to share with you now the questions that fundraisers most often ask me about case statements.

What is the major objective of a case statement?

I’ll say it in three words: To be read. That seems obvious, but not all cases are easy to get through. And the reader has no tolerance for boredom. Really, the job of your case is to incite action. It has to be sufficiently inspiring and motivating to move the prospective donor from the mind to the heart to the checkbook. Sure, it needs to provide information, but it must be far more than that. It has to have majesty and boldness. In the simplest of terms, the case is your vision and dream with a dollar sign.

Who should write the case?

It can certainly be written by a member of your staff. Many organizations have powerful writers. The problem with a staff member is that it almost always takes longer. This doesn’t have to happen if the writer is relieved of other responsibilities and can take three to four weeks working on the case full-time.

Keep this in mind, too. The quality of the writing often depends on the affection the writer feels for the organization.  It has to be a love affair.  This is true for someone on your staff – even truer if you outsource the writing. There are times when one of our writers returns from an assignment with a ho-hum attitude. “How did it go?” I ask. “Oh, okay. They’re doing a fine job.” If the writer feels the organization is doing a so-so job, I know it’s going to be a so-so case.

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How long should the case be?

Recently I read in a professional journal that case statements should be no more than two or three pages long. The author said that busy prospects won’t take the time to read more. I hear that, too, from board members. Forgive me but that’s nonsense! You can’t sell a dream and a vision in two or three pages. A case should be as long as it needs to be. Not a sentence longer or a sentence shorter. Typically our cases run about 12 to 15 pages. You can’t possibly engage the reader, describe the need, create the urgency, make the case, and motivate the would-be donor to make a gift— all in just a few pages.

What do readers look for?

Readers want to know why they should support your organization. Why this project?  Why now? And why me? The case has to respond to these questions. People want to give to bold and exciting programs that make a difference. They want to create resounding change. They want results. But here’s a warning: keep it as simple as possible. If you present the reader with more than three or four priorities, you’re spreading yourself too thin. A famous attorney said that if you send the jury out for deliberation with six or seven things to remember, they don’t remember anything.

What are the major elements that must be covered in a case?

It all begins with the title. You seek something that’s compelling. Or surprising. Maybe even a little shocking. A good title will move readers to your first few paragraphs, which are critical. If you lose readers here, you won’t get them back. Next you begin explaining the need. You detail how your organization is unmatched in its ability to surmount the problem. “No other organization is as well prepared….” And you convey urgency. “We cannot wait. We must move forward now.”At some point, perhaps in the middle of your case, you need to describe your organization’s mission. It’s your guiding anchor. Finally there’s the benediction. You bless all that’s been written. You solemnize the marriage of the reader to the need.

Is the case only for a capital campaign?

Most think of a case that way. But it’s every bit as important for annual giving. Men and women need to know why they should give to an ongoing or annual effort.

Will one case do the job for all constituents?

For years, I thought so. But what I realize now is that different constituents have different needs. And what appeals to one stakeholder may not interest another. Take for instance a university. Alumni are likely motivated differently than parents. Differently than faculty members. Different from foundations. You get the idea. I believe you need accommodate at least two or three of your primary constituencies. Plan a case for each. Seventy-five or eighty percent of the piece will be the same for all. But you’ll tailor it appropriately for the needs and appeal for each specific constituency.

Is there a preferred writing style?

I find a conversational style makes it most readable. I tell our writers to prepare the material as if they were talking to their favorite aunt or the mechanic who services her car. I like using colloquial terms, short sentences, short paragraphs. Your document isn’t meant for an English teacher. It’s directed to the person you need to motivate to make a gift.

What’s the best way to present the case?

I have a strong preference here. I like putting it in a three-ring binder. That’s because no one ever throws away a three-ring binder. In my experience, a fancy brochure, four-color and blind embossed, isn’t as likely to be read. I do something else you might consider. For major would-be donors, I mark the case with a big rubber stamp that says DRAFT. I seek their ideas and comments. As a matter of fact, I usually send it in advance of my visit (even providing a red pen so they can mark it up – and they do). 

Does the case create donors?

I don’t believe you can create donors. But you can certainly create passion and commitment among those who read your case. Those are the results you aim for and expect.

Jerold Panas is among a small handful of the grandmasters of American fundraisers. He is considered one of the top writers in the field and a number of his books have achieved classic status. Hailed by Newsweek as "the Robert Schuller of fundraising," Jerry is a favorite speaker at conferences and workshops throughout the nation. He is executive director of one of the premier firms in America and is co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. The very term "philanthropy" would mean less without Jerry's influence. He lives with his wife, Felicity, in northwest Connecticut.