How prepared is your organization to win community support? The case statement
Why on earth should people give away their hard earned money to support you? You must have thought through the answer to this question, no matter how modest or monumental your organisation and fundraising goals may be. This thinking translates into something called a ‘case’. The French have a phrase ‘raison d’etre’ which sums up the gist of a case. It means your reason for being - why your organisation exists. That might be as broad as eliminating world poverty or as focused as giving art opportunities to local children in Yeppoon.
Write this down into a ‘case statement’. It doesn’t need to be a huge document. Just answer some basic important questions.
- What need were you set up to answer?
- What specifically do you want to do, and how do you plan to do it?
- How will the donors’ money be used to reach this goal?
Questions to ask yourself
Beyond these basics, you should also ask
- What makes your organisation stand out.
- What is unique about what you are trying to achieve?
- And how will you be accountable for the way you use someone else’s money?
- What will you be giving back to those who invest their time, money or support?
When you think about it, these are the questions you could expect to hear when you ask someone for money, whether that is a company, your neighbour or a government minister. Put yourself in the donor’s shoes and find the answers yourself first. Like any investment, people need reassurance and evidence of good management and planning. Everyone relevant in your organisation should see this case statement. This helps all parties to start from the same understanding and commit to your ‘case’ for seeking funds. You would be surprised at the different versions of your cause that emerge if it is not all talked through and written down.
This internal document – which again, might be two pages or twenty - may include headings such as:
Why you exist, what community needs you are filling. Start with the goal of stirring minds rather than the usual jumping off point of ‘Our organisation was formed in July, 1988 ...’
It would be more inspiring to begin with a worthy ambition that sums up what you are on about, whether that is eliminating hunger in your district or offering safe haven for injured wildlife. Consider for instance the Leukaemia Foundation’s ‘Vision to cure. Mission to care.’ By way of further examples, the following four mission statements from international charities have been commended for their ability to communicate and motivate.
Mission: Improve the mind, body and spirit of the community.
Habitat for Humanity
A nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization building simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need.
Doctors Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an independent international medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters, or exclusion from health care in more than 70 countries.
Goodwill Industries International
Goodwill Industries International enhances the dignity and quality of life of individuals, families, and communities by eliminating barriers to opportunity and helping people in need reach their fullest potential through the power of work.
Horizon Foundation provides a diverse range of services to people with disabilities in SE Queensland.
Mission: creating opportunities for people with disabilities.
Micah Projects is a not for profit organisation located in several areas around Brisbane inner city which is made up of a number of services in areas of homelessness, mental health and disability, institutional abuse and giving family support.
Micah’s Vision: Our hope is to create justice and respond to injustice at the personal, social and social and structural levels in church, government, business and society.
This is succinctly expressed on promotional material as “Breaking Social Isolation – Building Community. Creating justice – responding to injustice”
Goals and objectives
Your short and long term directions and how you specifically plan to achieve these aims. Very specific objectives will give you and your donors direction and some way to measure your success. For instance, you might use an objective like ‘setting up 10 fully equipped meals kitchens at senior citizens centres in the district by September’. Remember that objectives should be S.M.A.R.T. - Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and deadlined to a set Time.
The programs you will run to reach your goals (meals kitchens, nutrition days, collections through schools); the people who will be involved (the Mayor as patron, a board, three volunteer committees and a part-time co-ordinator) and the facilities you will use (office space, food preparation equipment).
What you need to achieve your mission (20 microwaves) and what it will cost. You should also outline how much has already been raised (if any) through what sources (governments, corporations, individuals). Some idea of your strategies for raising funds should also be included here.
How you will measure and report your success. Given the occasional collapses of some nonprofit organisations, this is essential if your donors are to trust you to administer their donations. The Giving Australia research (2005) underlined just how common it is for people in the community to believe charities waste money and don’t give enough supporter feedback.
Now you can talk about some of the background to your organisation. Note that the cause - not your group - must take first place in constructing your case. While branding and being known are vital, your organisation is simply a conduit to achieving that important community outcome. You are not asking for money for your organisation. You are asking for support that will provide safety for a mother and children in an emergency,
This case statement is your master document. From this bank of information flows all other materials - brochures, circulars, public relations messages, advertising copy, speeches, proposals to government, corporations, foundations and others.
A case statement is an excellent start but there is more to think about in ‘internal preparation’ - making sure you are ready. The case statement will prompt a few questions about how you will handle your programs and your donations. It will also highlight the need for high calibre people at the helm. Whether yours is a grassroots group of five volunteers or a charity with enough staff to fill a small town, people, at every level of your organisation, are the most crucial part of any cause effort.
The people you enlist to govern the initiative, whether this is a formal board or a group of willing parents, have a big responsibility. Ideally, this group should be a mixture of people from different walks of life. Work out your organisation’s needs. Do you require a volunteer solicitor and an accountant? Will local business leaders be valuable to your cause? Are you likely to get some good candidates by advertising? Who could you ask directly to become involved? As some wit has suggested, your governing group of volunteers should represent the four ‘w’s - work, wisdom, wealth and wallop. To put this another way, they should also be prepared to give three ‘t’s - their time, talent and treasure.
This ‘treasure’ is an important point in fundraising. If your volunteers do not believe enough in your cause to give, how can they legitimately expect others to do so when they ask them? Giving time is wonderful but giving money as well is the sort of ringing endorsement that will move others to give. Make sure that people are aware that you’d like them to consider supporting the organisation’s work. In seeking leadership volunteers, it is a mistake to play down the involvement needed. Be honest - if it is a task that will take a concentrated commitment of time for a while, don’t hide that or you will get the wrong person.
Motivating your volunteers
A written description of what you expect of your volunteers at all levels will be useful. It allows people to judge if they have the time to contribute what you need and it also lets them know you are serious about achieving your goals on behalf of the community. When we work as volunteers, we are just like employees in that we need to be motivated guided, and know what is expected of us. Particularly in the nonprofit sphere, when giving our time, it is great to be involved in decisions and to have efforts recognised. Volunteers give of themselves in a very special way. Professional organisations - whether they have paid or unpaid leadership - will make time to evaluate their ongoing volunteers, seek their suggestions, and take the trouble to ask how they are enjoying the tasks they are assigned, and whether there are other areas they may prefer to work in. It is a basic courtesy.
Clearly, your volunteers believe in your cause. In raising funds, you need to enlist not only these folk but also find others of a like mind.