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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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A list of viewpoints to explore, when you're writing your case for support
Tom Ahern

May, 2011

Ask yourself these fundamental questions, as you and your team pursue talking points and messages.

For your toolbox: A bullet list of conversation starters.


This list was written on the fiery front lines, for a real (but small) arts organization.


On their horizon: a capital campaign for millions, their biggest effort ever. Next step: creating a case for support. 


The executive director wisely invited 20 stakeholders in for a day of message development. Those stakeholders (donors, board members past and present, staff, clients) then broke up into four groups, each group assigned a topic for discussion. 

All the groups were given the following list and told, "Here are some questions you might want to consider, as you talk about your topic...."

  • What happens if you don't do what you're considering? Will anyone other than insiders care? If so, why? 
  • Imagine the project is completed as planned, and now you're 5 years out. What's happening this week/month at your organization (5 years from now) that's absolutely boast-worthy and delightful?
  • You've come up with a message for potential donors. Can you now summarize it in two (and no more than 20) words, minus jargon? Example: "This campaign will establish our city's reputation internationally as a place that breeds tomorrow's most celebrated visual artists." [You're trying to set people's hair on fire. Jargon is a flame retardant.]
  • What values/aspirations/desires/fears can you connect with in the donor prospect? "People will love this project because...." 
  • How can you make this surprising to the donor? Is it unique, attention-getting, unusual, fresh, new?
  • Where's the proof you can pull this off? What else have you done that demonstrates your competence and trustworthiness?
  • Which "tribes" does this appeal to? "Tribe" is a marketing term. It means a group of people who share an identity or a value or a goal. "Parents of pre-schoolers" is a tribe. "Lovers of performance art" is a tribe. "People of a certain age" is a tribe. 
  • What's the unique promise, the thing this aspect of the project does that nothing else in your community does (or does as well)?
  • What's the impact? How big a crater can a donor make in the world by agreeing to support you?

You might be wondering: Okay, fine. But why these particular questions? What makes them special? 


Well, I write a half dozen or more cases every year. I know the information I will need to pull from my clients, to make a strong case for donor support. These particular questions, I've found, help elicit that key information.  


Takeaway >>>>  


What is a case for support, after all?


A good case for philanthropic support includes a description of your project, of course. But if that's all you have, you don't have much of a case. 


A truly effective case for support is a sales document and it seeks to stimulate desire in your donor prospects, by presenting them with an opportunity to do something wonderful for a part of the world they care about.


A good case dangles in front of potential donors the opportunity to do something amazing: (1) for themselves and (2) for the community [in that order].


Truth be told: the down-and-dirty details of your project don't matter all that much to donors. You sell at 30,000 feet, not at 3 feet ... as For Impact (the Suddes Group) rightly and repeatedly insists.


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