In a recent conversation with a fundraiser, I found myself struck by a realization that’s been sitting right in front of me for years (it keeps you humble):
Case development is the only existentially significant part of fundraising that isn’t anyone’s job.
Think about it. A lot of factors go into a successful fundraising program or campaign—building donor relationships, engaging leadership and board, managing data and operations, the list goes on—and there are talented people who come to work every day with each of those as their top priority.
But without a strong case, even the most sophisticated fundraising program is a dead machine. And with a strong case, institutions unlock gifts they never could have dreamed of before. New donors stop ignoring your appeals. Major donors give at their capacity. You finally start cracking into your donors’ top philanthropic priorities.
With this in mind, who is the person on your advancement team who owns your case for support as a high priority?
- Who dedicates time and energy to developing it, assessing its effectiveness, and updating it every year?
- Who is responsible for sharing it throughout your organization and getting everyone—from staff to leadership to board—excited about communicating it in their roles?
- Who is evaluated on the things I’ve just mentioned as part of their annual goals and performance?
Most organizations don’t have such a person.
Advancement leadership might own it somewhat by default, but it tends to end up in the important-but-never-urgent death zone.
Marketing might handle specific development communications requests but isn’t primarily focused on it, doesn’t usually understand development communications on a deep level, and doesn’t have the bandwidth.
Front-line fundraisers either use existing materials or improvise their own case in conversation, but don’t own the development of a true institutional case.
So this potentially game-deciding fly ball keeps dropping in between the outfielders.
I suppose this is why I end up having a job. But there’s more at stake in the work of advancement than keeping me from going back to overnight security guarding (the second best job I’ve ever had), so we should probably do something about this.
Here’s what I would recommend for most organizations:
Make the development and maintenance of a powerful case for support one of the key responsibilities for your chief advancement officer. They can delegate the work or partner with a consultant as needed but must ultimately be accountable for it.
Commit to working on your case meaningfully over the next year, regardless of whether you have a forcing event such as a campaign or not. That could mean anything from simply getting your case down in a set of core messages for the first time to more rigorously testing and refining your case or developing new donor materials.
Commit someone—probably the chief advancement person with the support of others as needed—to engaging, coaching, and training your staff and volunteers on the case. This not only helps these stakeholders become effective ambassadors for your fundraising message; it also shows them that the case is an essential expression of the organization’s mission and that your ownership of the case is part of your leadership role in the organization.
If you start with just these three steps, you can ensure that your case amplifies, not limits, your fundraising results and start seeing the full value and impact of everything else you’ve put in place in your fundraising program.