I’ve been working on a series of case statements for major gift fundraising. These are short documents describing a specific program for which a charity is asking tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from an individual donor, often because government or foundation funding is not available or sufficient to cover the expenses.
That kind of ask is very hard work.
Joanne Fritz of About.com has great advice about how to write case statements. But here’s a quick take on them based on my own experience. Basically, philanthropists are usually very busy and very smart. They’ll know right away when you haven’t done your homework. Because so much is at stake, these statements have to be short, sweet, and solid—in my opinion, more compelling and better written than just about any other fundraising communication.
The challenge is finding the right combination of hard facts and raw emotion you need to persuade major donors in just 1-1/2 or 2 pages. Donors have to be completely convinced of the need and your organization’s chances of success with their heads, but the desire to meet that need comes from their hearts.
The “head” part requires you to find just the right evidence to get people to think, “This is a serious social (or environmental, religious, or political) problem. I had no idea the situation was that bad.” Then you only have a few paragraphs to convince them that the program your charity has planned will get to the heart of that problem and be successful. When I’ve finished a case statement, I poke around and look for any weaknesses in my argument. (Pretending it’s my money really helps.) If I find one, I go back and look for stronger evidence and rework the case again.
Layers of emotion, even drama, then have to be woven in without overshadowing the factual information. It’s not OK to exaggerate but I’ve truthfully used words like “trauma,” “crisis,” “tragedy,” “suffering,” and “desperate.” I think that’s the main reason I love this kind of writing—the raw emotion you can evoke.
It’s also important to add at least one short story about someone who has experienced the problem you’re writing about. Stories are such powerful ways to personalize an issue, but again, in such a short document, you must pick just the right one.
A case statement is just one tool that a major gift fundraiser needs. But it’s the one thing I can do to help their cause. When I finish a case statement, if I feel both drained and moved to tears, then I know it’s going to be successful.
If you’re a writer, what’s the most emotional or evocative type of writing you do?