How do I write a compelling case for support?
by Ben Beaumont - 24 August 2023
More Partnership’s specialist copywriter, Ben Beaumont discusses a few approaches he’s learned to help you nail an emotive, persuasive and authentic fundraising narrative.
In my 20-odd years writing for and working alongside charities, hopefully I’ve learned a bit about what makes a good case for support. But I most definitely do not know it all, and I’m always learning new ways of telling stories from our clients, and from across the sector.
So what follows is a little of what works for me, and for some of the organisations I’ve worked with, for when I come to put my fingers to the keyboard. But be sure to sprinkle in a generous helping of what works for you, and for your organisation.
Where do I start?
First up, give yourself a clear brief. Ask yourself why you need a Case for Support, who it’s for, what messages will motivate them, how you’ll use it, and what form it should take. Do you need a rough and ready draft to test with some close supporters, an internal reference document, or something more polished for external use? Thankfully my colleague Laura Phipps has covered some of these questions in the first blog of our case for support series. Once you’ve thought those things through, the next bit should be… well, if not a breeze, then certainly much easier.
Yes, but where do I start?
Ah, OK, you’re talking about the tyranny of the blank page. I find the start of any job the most daunting bit – all these options and permutations, and only me to resolve them! At this point, there’s quite a bit of procrastination and gazing out of the window for salvation. Once that’s out of the way, I start with some variation of the same basic structure: need, solution, impact. Then I write down all the possible external arguments I might use under those headings, as they relate to the cause, and then I whittle them down further into something more coherent, less repetitious, and more focused.
What questions should I keep in mind?
Another, possibly more helpful, way, framed by a former colleague Catherine Roe, is to think of these sections as answers to a donor’s most important questions:
Why should I care? This is the need, the urgency, the problem in the world you are set up to solve. And why is now this moment or opportunity to act?
Why should I believe? This is your track record, your credentials, your distinctive ability to tackle the problem you’ve set out.
And what difference will my gift make? These are your urgent priorities, the tangible projects you need to fund, and the impact they will have on the world.
It’s still a bit of a jumble…
One step that I find super helpful, once you’ve got all your possible arguments, is to create a one pager that sets out the flow of your narrative, answering the questions above. This then acts as a brief and clear structure for your full draft, and gives you the opportunity to check in with colleagues and stakeholders that you’re on the right path.
But it’s just a load of words, how can I bring it together?
One thing to keep in mind is a golden thread to run through the Case. This could be a broad idea, such as “future generations”, or a specific goal or ambition your organisation has for the next 5, 10 or even 50 years. For example, when we worked with the University of Helsinki, their golden thread was “for the world”, grounding their distinctively Finnish story in global impact. At Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, they talked about “empowering broader minds”, building on the idea of freedom in their name and history, and on society’s need for people who can embrace diverse thinking.
And how do I avoid it being a long shopping list of projects?
Often, it’s helpful to provide themes of areas of work that support your vision, under which you can provide examples of specific ambitions, projects or challenges you will address. This gives you flexibility as your ambitions change, and allows you to explore different aspects of your work. Three is the magic number here. And I always remember the principle of the “shop window”, rather than the “shop floor”. This isn’t everything you do, it’s a carefully curated selection of elements that you hope will get your donor through the door. It could be sectors of your work, reflecting your strengths, such as sustainability, health or AI. Or it could reflect how you create change, for example school breakfast charity Magic Breakfast talked about fuelling children to learn, building public support, and influencing government action. LSE’s broad themes for their Shaping the World campaign are shaping ideas for impact (their research priorities), shaping their community (their campus and efforts to connect people in-person and digitally across the globe), and shaping transformative learning (supporting students and alumni).
But we do so many important things, how do I prioritise?
Ah, now this is a thorny question. This is something myself and colleagues at More wrestle with daily. You need to consult with your stakeholders, and ask them how they would prioritise. You need to think of a checklist to help you, which could include whether it fits with your vision, whether it’s authentic to your organisation, whether it’s realistic and feasible, and whether it’s ambitious and at the level you need to attract donors.
How can I stop this being another internal document?
I think the most important aspect of any case is that it needs to focus externally, on what the world wants and needs. It can’t be about your internal challenges. So, when you have a project, ask yourself “so what?” What difference will this make for people’s lives, for society, for the world, for our future? Don’t be afraid to think big – for me, that’s the whole point.
You can also insert the words “so that” when you’re writing or talking about a potential project or ambition, to help unpack the impact. To take a very simple example: “We want to provide more scholarships for students… so that we can attract more people from low-income backgrounds… so that they can fulfil their potential at university… so that we can benefit from diverse perspectives… so that the world can benefit from their skills and experience… so that the world can be a better place.” See how that escalated pretty quickly?
Any other tips?
Well, I’m running out of space here, but a few other things I’d always keep in mind:
Make it authentic and specific to your organisation. Use examples only you could use. Pick up on phrases, values and beliefs that feel distinctively you. Build on details from your history, geography and achievements.
Don’t be too doom and gloom – you need a bit of a challenge, but you also want to paint a hopeful picture of a better future that is only possible with donors’ support.
Get others to say how great you are through quotes, rather than blowing your own bugle.
Make an emotional connection through personal stories.
Provide rational back-up through a few stats, both of your challenge and your impact – but don’t overdo these, as your audience will quickly go number-blind.
Make it look attractive – people absorb information in all kinds of ways, so break copy up, use striking images, think about who your donors are and how they like to be communicated with, and consider video and digital.
Think about length – donors are busy, so while they may be reassured by a certain amount of detail, you also need to give them the chance to take in your key messages as quickly as possible.
Is there anything you’d add to this? We’d love to hear your tips and challenges for cases for support. And, if you’re struggling we can help you create your case – and test it with your closest donors, too. Just get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.