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Sunday, December 17, 2017

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Writing a fabulous case is easy
Tom Ahern

December, 2009

You're just answering questions
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To write a great case, you take on a new job title.
         You become the Designated Stranger.
         You pretend you know nothing about your organization. And you ask yourself the kinds of basic, skeptical, questions that outsiders tend to have.
         What kinds of questions will a prospective donor have? Nothing outlandish:

  • Why is your mission/plan/program so vital?
  • Why is your solution so good/proven/unique?
  • Why is now so urgent?
  • Why do you need donors at all?

         Here's how Yale president, Richard C. Levin, opens his case for the university's Tomorrow campaign. The first paragraph is nothing but answers to basic questions. As the case unfolds, it adds flesh to bare bones concepts such as "build the future" that were introduced in Levin's opening remarks:
 

I invite you to participate in Yale Tomorrow [question #1: Why am I contacting you?], a five-year, $3 billion campaign [question #2: What is the scope of the campaign?] to build the future of our University [question #3: Why does the campaign matter to the institution?]. I seek your support to ensure that the accomplishment of recent years is not remembered merely as a bright moment in Yale's long history [question #4: What is the urgent problem that drives the campaign?], but rather as the foundation for a Yale of permanently greater breadth and strength, a Yale with the capacity to contribute-by means of its scholarship and its graduates-not only to the nation but also to the world [question #5: What is the promise of the campaign?].



Answering special questions
 
Your case will almost certainly have to answer some unique questions, too; questions that only apply to your special situation.
         Yale, for instance, is said to have the second largest academic endowment on the face of the earth; the sum is vast and well advertised. Which leads to an obvious question: "If Yale is already unimaginably rich, why, President Levin, do you need yet more of my money?" His second paragraph hurries to explain:
 

Even our most loyal supporters might wonder, after examining the spectacular performance of our Investments Office these past two decades, whether Yale needs to augment still further its already abundant financial resources. It is important to recognize that most of our existing endowment funds were given by donors of the past and present to be used for specifically designated purposes. Thus, most of our endowment provides a strong foundation for our current activities, while the relatively small fraction of the endowment that is unrestricted permits only limited scope for innovation.

 
         In other words, Yale needs more unrestricted money or its "scope for innovation" will be "limited."
         Let me give you one more example of answering an obvious special question.
         When the Rhode Island Philharmonic launched a capital campaign to retire its structural deficit, the organization knew that people would ask:

  1. Isn't a deficit a bad thing, a sign that your management lacks business sense?
  2. And, hey, if the orchestra needs money, why don't you just raise ticket prices, like any for-profit would?
         So the Philharmonic's printed case opens with the frank statement: "A symphony is a tough business. Every time you perform, you lose money ... if you depend on ticket sales alone."
         The case then reveals that all the very best symphonies have structural deficits. The Boston Symphony does, the National Symphony does, the Philadelphia Orchestra does.
         A structural deficit, the case argues, has in fact become something of an indicator of top-tier musicianship among U.S. symphonies. Truth to tell, the case argues, if your symphony doesn't have a structural deficit, maybe you (Dear Live Classical Music Lover and Potential Supporter) should wonder why not. After all, top professional musicians, interesting conductors, acoustically perfect performance venues, and celebrity guest soloists do cost serious money.

>>> Takeaway >>> Among the very first things you should do when writing a case for support is sit down and make a list of all the questions your typical gift prospect will have. Then find the answers. You cannot safely skip this step, guaranteed.

Adapted from Seeing Through a Donor's Eyes, How to Make a Persuasive Case for Everything by Tom Ahern, 2009, Emerson & Church

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