Crafting a Compelling Case for Support: 5 Key Steps

Sometimes it can be easy to take for granted, but donors need a reason to give to your nonprofit. Actually, a whole constellation of reasons is often at play—your mission, their personal connections to it, their relationships to your organization, the impact they see you have on the ground, their care for their community, and more. 

The OneCause Giving Experience Study backs this up. Donors report a number of key reasons for ultimately choosing to donate. Trusting the organization to responsibly steward the money and caring about the organization’s mission are leading motivators—both of which can be tapped into by developing a compelling case for support.

A robust case for support simplifies the process of appealing for support, increases the chances of successfully securing a donation, and is adaptable for different audiences, prospects, and fundraising situations. 

You’re already familiar with effective ways to appeal to donors for your unique nonprofit, but if you’ve never sat down to create a strategic case for support, you may have a few questions.


What is a Case for Support?

A case for support is your nonprofit’s core message that communicates to donors what you will accomplish with their support and how their donations translate to a concrete impact in the community. It’s essentially your pitch—why your mission matters, why your particular nonprofit is in a great position to achieve it, and how donations will drive those results. 

An effective case for support lays out this pitch in a clear way that can be adapted for various contexts (more on these below).

Although it can refer more broadly to the set of intangible messages and narratives that you use to appeal to donors, “case for support” is often used to describe the physical printed or digital collateral that distills these messages into a digestible form.

When Do You Use a Case for Support?

You can use a case for support anytime you’re appealing to donors for gifts. Most nonprofits develop a general case for support that clarifies their core messaging to donors, plus more specific versions that are tailored to various fundraising situations. 

Here are a few barebones examples:

  • General case for support
    • Our animal rescue works to rehabilitate and rehome cats and dogs in our community who would otherwise go to kill shelters. Donations directly enable us to pursue this mission by feeding, housing, and caring for animals.
  • Campaign-specific case for support
    • Generous gifts to our food pantry’s capital campaign will allow us to expand our facilities and renovate our kitchen to provide even more support to hungry families in our area during this time of rising food insecurity. 
  • Prospect-specific case for support
    • A major gift to our school’s performing arts department will fund our new lighting system and allow you to have an even greater impact on the students now enjoying the same world-class education that you received as a student.
  • Event-specific case for support
    • Gifts made during our annual gala will go directly toward our community foundation’s newest scholarship initiative, with a generous 50% match from our sponsor ensuring that as many students as possible can benefit.

These are quite basic examples, but they show how your core message should be focused, clearly lay out how the money will be used, and highlight the impact that donations will have. They should answer the question, “Why should donors (or one particular donor) give to our nonprofit, campaign, or event?”

Depending on its purpose, your case for support might take a number of forms. For instance, a general case for support might consist of a core messaging one-pager and style guide to be used internally when developing new marketing materials. Campaign-specific cases and those tailored to qualified individual prospects will be polished digital or printed materials shared directly for use in one-on-one conversations. An event’s case for support could be a set of notes and scripts used by your emcee and staff to effectively speak to the event’s purpose when making live appeals.

Making the Case: 5 Key Steps

How do you craft and design a compelling case for support that will help you secure more gifts and better communicate your nonprofit’s work to donors? 

Cases are most often discussed in campaign- and prospect-specific contexts, like soliciting a major gift for a capital campaign. Let’s walk through our recommended steps for creating this type of case for support:

1. Define your purpose and audience.

Start by getting specific—why are you writing this case for support, and who are you appealing to? This will allow you to develop a more targeted set of messages that will best make your pitch and motivate giving. 

If you’re preparing to solicit a gift from a major prospect, you can tailor your message to them specifically. For example, a hospital raising funds for an expansion might ask a grateful former patient for a gift. This tailored case for support might reference the life-changing care they received and explain how their gift would help their doctor or surgeon provide even better care in the future.

But even for more general cases for support, you should come up with a donor persona to help you write in a more focused way. For instance, if you want to tap into donors’ passion for education, keeping this motivation in mind from start to finish will result in a more effective resource that will help your school or library secure more gifts.

2. Recruit a team with varied perspectives.

Creating a case for support is a task that shouldn’t be tackled alone. A larger team of internal stakeholders will provide input from a variety of perspectives, ensure your messaging is in line with organizational standards, and generate more internal buy-in for your campaign. This team might include:

  • Leaders and board members who have big-picture views of your operations
  • Program staff who drive on-the-ground impact and see the need for your campaign
  • Development staff who’ll be having conversations and soliciting gifts from donors
  • Volunteers who’ve seen your work firsthand and know how to represent your organization to the public

It’s also a good idea to seek input from external stakeholders once you have an initial draft of your case for support. Depending on the case’s purpose, these might include constituents, current and prospective donors, and current and prospective sponsors or funders. A preliminary case for support for a capital campaign will be reviewed and discussed by external stakeholders during a feasibility study. This 360-degree view of your case will show you how it’s likely to be received by your target audience and allow you to make more effective revisions over time.

3. Write your nonprofit’s story.

Your case for support should tell a story. Clear narratives are often the most effective way to engage readers and elicit emotion. Who’s the character who needs your nonprofit’s help? What is your organization up against while trying to achieve its mission? What role do your donors play in driving the story and reaching a resolution?

Start by outlining the key points and most important elements of your campaign. Look at how they fit together and how they can be described and expanded upon to make the best possible pitch for what you’re trying to accomplish. From here, work with your team to draft a complete narrative that ties it all together. Collect feedback, produce a revised version, and repeat until you have a draft that effectively communicates these essentials:

  • Your vision – Where is your nonprofit headed? What’s your campaign roadmap?
  • Your priorities – What exactly are you working to achieve with this campaign?
  • Your impact – What impact will your successful campaign have, and what impact can you point to in the past that shows you’re a responsible steward?
  • Your voice – What’s your nonprofit’s identity? How can you express your values in a meaningful, authentic way?

Remember, brevity and clarity are essential for an effective case for support, no matter its specific purpose. Avoid jargon or unnecessarily vague words, and write with your audience in mind, whether they’re an individual prospect or a donor persona.

4. Gather supporting material.

Of course, a compelling story alone isn’t always enough to motivate giving or communicate everything a donor might want to know before they commit. Hard numbers and real details are important for filling in all the blanks and showing donors that yours is a responsible organization ready to put their gifts into action. Pull these supporting details from:

  • Your nonprofit’s strategic plan
  • Specific program or project plans
  • Budgets, financial projections, and spending plans
  • Impact stories and testimonials
  • Statistics about the problem you’re addressing
  • Statistics about your nonprofit’s past impact

Take time to gather visual materials as well, including photos and brand collateral that can be used in the finished product. The combination of a compelling story, evocative details, and rich visuals will create a well-rounded and effective case for support.

5. Compile a complete case for support.

Now’s the time to bring it all together into a polished end product. As mentioned above, the final version of your case for support might take a few different forms depending on its purpose. For a campaign, your case for support will likely be most useful when distilled into both printed and digital forms such as:

  • Brochures and mailers 
  • Printed one-pagers that lay out the most compelling details for easy reference during conversations
  • PDF files for easy sharing via email
  • A dedicated webpage or microsite that includes extra visuals and interactive features

A few final rounds of feedback from your team of internal and external stakeholders will help you hammer out any design issues once the finished product comes into focus. Working with a graphic designer will likely be your best bet to ensure your case for support makes an excellent impression, but you may also choose a DIY route depending on the scope of your campaign or context.

Any nonprofit can secure more gifts and deepen its connections to donors through the power of effective communication. By developing, refining, and tailoring a robust case for support, you’ll give your team a powerful tool for expressing your mission and showing donors the impact they’ll have on driving it forward. 

Author: Aaron Dahlstrom

Aaron Dahlstrom is the Vice President of Digital Marketing at Graham-Pelton. Creative and considerate, Aaron plans and executes Graham-Pelton’s presence across all digital mediums, ensuring that those who invest their time engaging with the firm experience the timely thought leadership and bold approach audiences have come to appreciate.

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