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The Key Document Your Organization Is Missing

Gold old-fashioned key in keyhold

In my experience, most organizations have at least two key documents: a strategic plan and a fundraising plan. A strategic plan explains what you hope to achieve and how you plan to achieve it, and a fundraising plan explains how you plan to raise the money you need to execute your strategic plan.

More sophisticated organizations have two other important documents. The first is a theory of change, which describes the context, rationale, and purpose for your organization. The second is a communications plan, which describes how your organization plans to advance your program goals by building a base of support.

Yet even with these documents to guide the organization's work, several organizations still suffer from a common problem: an inability to consistently articulate their organization's value. It is often difficult for them to clearly state why the work they do is unique, important, and worthy of support. Frequently, different members of the organization — staff, board members, volunteers — will talk about the organization differently. Many of the organizations I work with tell me they are not all on the same page about who they are, why they exist, and the work they do.

Why is this a problem?

An unclear or inconsistent message about your work makes it difficult to build a base of support. People have a hard time getting behind your organization if they are unclear about what it does, and it's hard to present a strong brand that is both compelling and recognizable if there are lots of different messages out there about who you are and what you do.

Perhaps most importantly, not being able to articulate your unique value makes it challenging to solicit funding. After all, if you can't clearly state why your organization is so important, why should someone give money to you instead of one of the many other organizations out there seeking to raise funds?

Why you need a “case for support”

The document most organizations need but rarely have is a case for support, also called a case statement. A case for support is a brief, clear, donor-oriented document that states why you need and deserve funding. It is the source document for all your fundraising and communications activities, and it is the prayer book that gets everyone in your organization singing from the same hymnal. It takes your theory of change and your strategic plan and synthesizes them into a statement about your organization's unique value that you can use to build support for your mission.

Creating a case for support should precede any fundraising and communications planning. The case for support says how much you need and why you deserve it while the fundraising plan says how you will raise it, and the communications plan says how you will build a base of support to achieve your mission.

A well-crafted case for support presents a strong argument for why someone should support your organization. We all need support to achieve our missions, so shouldn’t we all have a case for support?

To learn more about the components of a good case for support, how to develop one, and how to make it compelling, join me for Foundation Center’s upcoming webinar, “The Nonprofit Rosetta Stone: Making Your Case for Support” on Tuesday, March 31, 1:00 – 2:00 pm ET. Register today!

ERIC B. JACOBSON has more than 10 years of experience in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. He currently helps nonprofits and foundations make it easier to achieve their missions and attract support to their causes through strategic planning, smarter fundraising, and more effective messaging.

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