I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how easy it is to lose sight of the things we’re passionate about when we’re stuck in the endless cycle of day-to-day activities. I don’t know about you, but it feels like I’m rushing from one item on my to-do list to another, with barely enough time to think in between. The immediate and urgent always seems to take precedence over the thoughtful and strategic.
And with that, it becomes all too easy to forget why we’re doing what we do. And it’s not just us: our fellow staff members, volunteers, and board members can forget, too.
In this month’s tip, I’ll share how the development of a case for support can help reignite the passion that got your stakeholders involved in your organization in the first place. I’m going to assume that you already know the importance of having a case, so I’ll focus instead on process.
Let’s start with a few basics.
A case for support document is typically designed for the following three purposes:
- To persuade prospects and donors to invest in your mission and programs in order to seek concrete and highly worthwhile outcomes.
- To give volunteers and staff the information they need to aid in that cause.
- To motivate staff, volunteers, board members and advocates to further the cause and support the organization to the very best of their abilities.
The best cases for support adhere to the following principles:
- They are written ‘from the outside-‐in’. By this, I mean that they are written in the prospect’s language and come from the prospect’s point of Jargon and overly technical narrative must be avoided at all cost.
- The cause is always more important than the organization. Your charity is simply the vehicle that advances the cause. People GIVE to the cause. They CHOOSE your institution as the method of delivery.
- The message focus must be clearly on ‘why’ much more than ‘how’. Answering the question ‘why should I give?’ is the primary purpose of the case.
- Storytelling is the most compelling method of persuasion. You want your case for support to use stories to bring your programs to life and connect the prospect with the people who will benefit from these programs.
- People are emotional animals. You’ll want to pull emotional triggers whenever and wherever possible.
- You must be positioned as the best (or better yet, ONLY) vehicle to achieve the desired outcomes resulting from the chosen framing of the cause.
That’s all fine and good, but where do you start? Where do you find the passion, emotion and stories that you need to craft your case? In my experience, reading through your annual report, program updates, reviewing your website news, and poring over your strategic plan will not give you what you need (and, trust me, if a case for support is written using only written documents as background, it’s going to be pretty terrible.)
When I am getting ready to write a case for support, I rely almost completely on personal interviews with key stakeholders. From them, you can easily gather the stories and messages that will bring your cause to life.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Your interviewees won’t naturally put their heart on their sleeve and spontaneously share it with you. You need to draw them out by asking really great questions, and taking the time to really listen to their responses. It often helps to have someone outside your organization do these interviews because they can put aside pre-conceived ideas and structure and can more easily take that ‘from the outside – in’ perspective.
Over the years, I’ve conducted thousands of interviews and I’ve learned that the following questions can be particularly effective in bringing your interviewee back to the root of their support of and excitement about your cause:
- What prompted you to first get involved (or take the job) with ABC Charity?
- Have you had a pivotal moment at ABC Charity… a moment that stands out in your mind and that hooked you in to the cause?
- For donors: What prompted your first gift to ABC Charity? How does it feel to give to this cause?
- What sets ABC Charity apart from other organizations doing similar work?
- How would the world/country/province/community be different if ABC Charity didn’t exist?
- What impresses you the most about ABC Charity?
- What are ABC Charity’s biggest strengths? Opportunities?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of? Which have had the biggest impact?
- Tell me about a particular person you’ve met, or a program you’ve been involved with, involving ABC Charity’s work that has stood out for you (I’ll often come back to this question many times, asking for more anecdotes).
- What do you love most about your job? (alternates: what do you love most about being a volunteer? A donor?)
- Why should people care about this cause?
- In your own words, why are donors important?
- This case for support is your chance to speak to donors. What would you like to say to them?
More often than not, these 45 or 60 minute interviews result in laughter and tears. It’s then that I know I’ve been successful because I’ve brought the interviewee to the level of emotion rather than logic. At the same time, as a writer I’ve been pulled in and feel deeply connected to the cause. And, I know I’ve helped to reignite my interviewee’s passion because I’ve forced them to reflect on the basics. I’ve been privileged to hear the passion in their voice.
Once the interviews are complete, spend some time thinking. Think about what has stood out. Think about common themes. Think about the stories that made you feel deeply. Then, start writing. The case for support that results will be powerful and will become a rallying point both internally and externally.