Is your case strong enough?

Why you need to invest serious effort into creating a compelling case for support

A few years back, Saatchi and Saatchi created a TV ad to support the NSPCC’s Full Stop campaign.  It featured a real adult swearing and throwing a cartoon kid around the house to the accompaniment of Loony Tunes-style music and canned audience laughter. At the end of the ad the cartoon kid became a real child lying broken at the bottom of the stairs.  Then the words came up: ‘Together we can stop child abuse.  Full Stop.’   To many parents, the effect of this was visceral.

The NSPCC already had an inherently powerful case for support, but it didn’t stop them cranking it up further.  The power and the simplicity of Full Stop (and some clever methodology) is largely why it is now the UK’s most successful charitable fundraising campaign ever.

Few would argue that we shouldn’t tackle child abuse; few would disagree that we should not invest in cancer research or in famine relief.  But not all charities are blessed with a gut-wrenching case for support.  For those of us who aren’t, we must work even harder to strengthen our fundraising messages – our cases for support.  It’s an intellectual job that must not be dodged.

The principles of an effective case for support are simple and the advantages of investing serious time and effort into creating one are obvious.  So it’s surprising that so many fundraising initiatives launch without enough groundwork.

First let’s look at how a case for support fits into fundraising.  There are only four ingredients to any effective fundraising campaign:

  1. Your case – why you need the money
  2. Your need – how much do you need – your target.
  3. Leadership – the people behind it.  People give to people.
  4. Constituency – who can you ask?  For example, if you’re raising funds for a church roof in Chipping Norton, you’re not going to achieve much by asking for donations from people in Tunbridge Wells.  But constituencies are not just geographic.

That’s it.  If you have clear answers to each of these, you’re in business.

Your case and your need can be wrapped up into your case for support.  Looked at like this, it’s clear that your case for support is absolutely fundamental to your fundraising.

I spent a couple of summers working on building sites to fund my time at college and I learnt that when you’re building a house, you’ve done at least a third of the work by the time you reach ground level.  There’s a parallel in fundraising.  By the time you’re truly ready to look someone in the eye and ask them to make a donation, you’ve done a third of the work necessary to get you to your target.

Now, let’s focus on the principles of a great case for support.  And we’ll talk in the context of schools.

There are three principles of a great case for support.  Let’s look at the first of these (the other two can wait till a future post).



From all the discussions I’ve had with donors over the years, it’s quite clear that the really big money only comes in if your case for support shows how it contributes to your organisation’s vision.

If you want to raise funds for a new sports hall and your primary motivation is that the school up the road has one and you haven’t, all you are doing is taking part in what is now dubbed the facilities arms race.  It doesn’t cut it with donors.

I was talking to a potential major donor the other day and we began by discussing the school’s vision.  One of the tenets of this is the school’s belief that every pupil should be able to discover, a passion – an interest, a gift – they have.  The school should not impose an agenda on these children.  From this discovery, teachers should then provide the opportunities and encouragement needed to nurture interest and enthusiasm towards excellence and achievement.  This guy really agrees with the vision and felt that this was what his school had done for him.  Great headway towards a donation…  We could then move on naturally to discuss how a proposed science centre project would inspire a love of science and would give pupils the opportunity to develop excellence in all science.  Development serving vision.  The potential donor related to this rationale.

All of this seems so straightforward.  The thing is, to keep it this way one has to be objective and practical.  Sometimes you need a fresh perspective to help with this.

"By closely following James Underhill’s advice the School raised over £400,000, between September 2008 and June 2009, towards the building of a new Sports Hall (completed by April 2010). Despite the ‘credit crunch’ a very high proportion of the then parental body subscribed (approximately 80%) and he successfully managed to reach out to the alumni. His holistic understanding of the project, of human nature and the process of fund raising were key to the project’s overwhelming success. He would be my first port of call for our next fund raising project."-

William Trelawny-Vernon, Headmaster, Saint Ronan’s Preparatory School, Hawkhurst