The strongest Cases for Support are focused upon meeting the needs of your target donor community. They relay the message in a way that will resonate with your donors and persuade them to support you.
But what if your donors’ perception of your organisation – what you do and your impact – is different from what you think it is? This difference in viewpoint may seem unlikely, but in my conversations with hundreds of donors over the years, both as a fundraiser and as a consultant, it is more common than you would think.
A recent example of this occurred when I was working with an organisation to develop their Case for Support. The organisation was intending to push forward with specific messaging for a major gift campaign that was to be articulated in a new Case for Support document. Prior to its development, I carried out a series of interviews with some of their major gift prospects (which included some of their Board members) to understand how they already viewed the organisation.
The organisation was very surprised to find out that their prospective donors’ view of what the organisation does, and achieves was greatly different from the message that they were looking to drive in the coming year. As a result, it became clear that the donors would be less enthusiastic about how the organisation planned to approach and present its work and impact. There was no doubt, following this exercise, that the chosen approach would have affected their fundraising success.
Experiences like this clearly indicate that it can be a mistake to assume that what staff members value with regard to what an organisation does is the same as what your donors, and sometimes even your Board, actually do value. This is not to say that programming should be donor-led, but that by understanding your donors’ motivations in supporting you, you are more likely to develop and design a Case for Support that speaks to their heart, their passions and compels them to give.
Who are your audiences? What do you want them to do?
A Case for Support can serve many purposes. For example, in some cases, it might be used to solicit major gifts from wealthy individuals while in others, you may want a Case for Support that is intended to encourage people to leave a bequest to your organisation. Depending upon your goals, and the motivations of your target audience, your approach may be subtly, or sometimes, dramatically, different. The first step is, therefore, to figure out who you intend to reach with it, based upon your fundraising goals, and what you what them to do.
Doing your research
When you know who your audiences are going to be, the next step is to understand them, their motivations, and what they are looking for from you.
One way of doing this is through a stakeholder interview process. Identify some key people who fit with your target demographic, who may include people who already support you and, if possible, some that do not (yet!). Then ask them to meet with you so that you can get their perspective on your organisation. Through this process, you can begin to:
- understand what people connected with the organisation like and do not like about your messaging
- spot any misconceptions held by your stakeholders about the organisation
- highlight any missed opportunities to engage your donors at a deeper level
- identify aspects of the organisation’s work that are particularly loved by those connected with it
- understand your donors’ motivations for supporting you, or even in some cases, what may be standing in the way of their willingness to engage further
- cultivate relationships with key supporters, staff and stakeholders, including the Board, particularly if their help, commitment, and support will be required to drive the programme forward
If you want to reach a larger group, you may decide to distribute a survey to your chosen stakeholders. This will allow you to gather a broader range of responses to help inform the direction of your fundraising messaging.
Once you have a strong draft of your Case for Support, go back to some of your stakeholders and ask them what they think. What, if anything, moved them when reading it? Was there anything within it that did not resonate with them? Were they left with any questions about what you do or the impact that you create through your work? Did they feel compelled to offer their support as a result of reading it or were they less than excited?
With such feedback, you can refine your document so that as you move forward, it is able to engage as many people as possible in the right way.
Mena Gainpaulsingh, Director, IFC Canada