December 29th, 2009

Memo to a Case Writer

Here’s an approach to writing a philanthropic case statement that might be helpful.  Take the term “case” seriously when you think about writing the “case statement.”  As in presenting a case to a judge or a jury, imagine that your job is to organize the information in order to motivate a specific decision—in this instance, the decision to support your organization.

I see three critical elements:

Like the lawyer, you know intimately your client’s history and the circumstances of the case.  You want to convey this information cogently and give the reader his/her own sense of intimacy with the facts of the organization.  Use representative details, not platitudes.  You don’t need to describe everything.

At the same time, you have sketchy information about your audience—those who will read the case.  A funding proposal to a single foundation or an individual is relatively simple.  But now you have to write to a fairly diverse group.  Some have shown interest by making gifts before.  Some are friends of board members.  Some have given to similar charities.  Some are looking for good causes and important needs.  Some are looking for gratifying ways to dispose of their wealth.  You need to make your best assumptions about what motivates these groups and identify common denominators.

Finally, like a good lawyer, your most powerful tool is that you know what is right and just—what specific actions need to be taken to heal the world and right the wrongs in our society.  The expression of values is not abstract; it is implicit and explicit in the particular vision and plans your organization has for the future.  You want to present your vision and plans explicitly and attractively, and state their underlying principles.  In this way, your presentation amounts to an invitation and encouragement to readers who share your values to join with you in implementing your vision and plans.  These values impassion your case, form the bond with your readers, and motivate them to action in the form of material support.

Start with the value statement.  Then describe your organization in terms of its values—both its program content and its organizational character.  Then state what your organization plans to become in terms of those values and its character.  Then invite the reader to participate in action.  Your first paragraph or two outline the entire case.  Then each following paragraph elaborates a single point stated at the opening.  Your final paragraph summarizes and invites readers to become an important part of this noble enterprise.