The state of the world has made us want to connect with more of you, more often. For the rest of 2020, the Campbell & Company Communications team is sharing a new article every week that explores a topic in case development and fundraising communications, drawn from our work.
Whether it’s thinking about how to approach fundraising communications against the backdrop of current events or tackling an evergreen challenge we see time and time again in nonprofits across the sector, these articles focus on practical tips to empower fundraising leaders in their day-to-day work. Subscribe to the series here.
If we needed a slogan for the Campbell & Company case development methodology, we might think about borrowing from the rich intellectual tradition of pizza delivery and promise clients a piping hot case for support in six messages or less.
(It’s 2020 and we need to take joy where we can, so I’m setting aside my usual “less” vs. “fewer” fussbudgetry.)
Of course we don’t always keep score in exactly this way, but after writing a bunch of these things over the years, we’re pretty well convinced: No matter how grand the mission or complex the campaign, the best fundraising cases can be distilled to a half dozen core messages. When your case is strong down to its fundamentals, the full version might fill a magisterial brochure or an in-depth presentation deck, but the heart of it—the stuff you want every donor to know and feel—should be so absolutely clear and crisply expressed that you could write it on a notecard.
Let’s talk about why this matters, why we struggle with it, and how to get there.
When we refer to messages, we’re talking about a simple expression of an idea that is designed to move an audience. For our purposes, that means that it distills something essential about your case into a single sentence using simple, direct language.
In one of our city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the challenge of hunger is much worse than most of our neighbors recognize.
This campaign is about all the learning that happens outside the classroom.
If you care about climate action in our region, this is the smartest way to make a difference.
You can imagine the supporting bullet points that would fall under each of these messages, but each message itself is crisp, simple, and self-sufficient. Most of us aren’t in the regular habit of thinking in such distilled terms, and our sector’s traditional vehicle for case development is a long narrative case statement that makes it all too easy to avoid committing to core messages. But when you build your case around simple core messages like these, some very useful things happen:
This is why we’ve come to believe that strong, well-defined messages are the building blocks of a strong case.
Ok, messages good, got it. If the case for a message-driven approach is such a slam dunk, then why aren’t we all already living the messaging good life?
Though these challenges are real, you don’t need to be a master writer to get past them. Rather, they respond well to effort and focus.
If you’d like to dig into the craft of distilling messages for donors at all levels, we have a whole webinar on this subject with dozens of examples and more detailed writing tips. The crux of the guidance, though—our core messages about core messages—might be summarized as:
A proof point, not a message: Every dollar we invest in [education program] generates ten dollars of social benefit and economic impact.
Message speaking to values (fairness): No child should miss out on a great education for financial reasons.
Message speaking to identity (smart donor): This is the smartest investment we can make in our community’s future today.
To see a sample case distilled into core messages based on the six elements, check out this webinar.
Meandering and weak: Alongside our recent investments in capital and programs, we must also invest in our school endowment to ensure our strongest future.
Simple and direct: The endowment is the most important investment we can make in our school’s future right now.
As Twain apparently didn’t actually say, getting to the short version is hard work—and the perfectly distilled one-page case summary is usually the last piece we arrive at in a case development process after writing longer forms along the way. But it’s also the most useful and most satisfying. Begin the work today to get to the promised land: a powerful case that fits on a notecard.