In this interview with fundraising expert, Dr. Lou Traina, we take a deep look at donor acquisition and major gifts. The following section of the interview discusses what makes a case statement a powerful fundraising instrument. A case statement is a tool that nonprofits often use when asking for a contribution. It’s a short, compelling argument for supporting the nonprofit that can be presented as a brochure, one-page information sheet, or glossy folder filled with factsheets, photographs, budgets, and/or charts.
JoAnn Lawrence: There are so many different things we could talk about regarding major gifts and attracting new donors. Where do you think we should start?
Lou Traina: Let’s start with the case statement. A lot of organizations don’t really understand how to put together a case statement. The one thing that they always miss is the problem statement, and it’s so powerful. Every charity is addressing a major problem in their community, state, or nation. Yet, often the case for support does not talk about the problem their charity is trying to help solve. They don’t really define what the problem statement is. Further, the problem statement gets changed quite a bit because it’s never written down. It’s not totally understood by Board Members, and if you asked them what the problem that you’re addressing is, they’ll all give you different answers. Even more important than being consistent with the message, a problem statement must be supported with evidence.
Evidence is really important to the donor. For an example, I was working with a nonprofit organization recently that is looking to expand nationally. This organization thought they had to have two case statements, one for the local organization and one for the national, which you could do. But if you really think about it, it’s still the same problem that they’re addressing.
If you look at the evidence, you can have the same problem statement and the evidence would be national data for a national organization. You could add local state data for a local organization. All in all, you have the same problem statement whether the evidence is supporting a national initiative or local initiative. When the donor sees that, they truly understand that the problem statement is supported with national, state, and local data. They then understand that their gift is going to mean something. The evidence is essential to support that their gift is going to make a difference. People have always heard me say this, and it came from the pastor of my church: “Faith is something you can’t see, but the evidence is there.” That just hit home with me because every major gift I have brought in had a wealth of evidence supporting something that the donor was able to make happen with their gift.
JoAnn Lawrence: A gift comes from a donor’s belief in the importance of the problem, their faith that the solution is possible, and their wish to be part of making that solution happen.
Lou Traina: Right. You’re not going to have donor acquisition unless you have a powerful case statement. In addition, you can’t have a powerful case statement unless you have a clear and compelling problem and evidence to support the problem statement. Once you have that, then you can define the purpose of your mission, the problem, the solution, and your campaign. When that takes place, the donors get interested. There is a whole process of getting donors closer and closer to the mission of the organization, and we call this moves management, which is the cycle of fundraising. The cycle is research, prospecting, cultivation, solicitation, and then the recognition piece after a gift is made. I believe you really have to begin with a powerful case statement. A case statement is not just for campaigns. It’s for the organization and it all starts with a compelling problem statement.
Of course, you have to complete all the different elements of a case statement, and the problem statement is actually the second element. The first element is the background of the organization. Here you go into the purpose of the of the organization and its mission. Secondly, you have the problem statement. Next you propose a solution. Then you share the strategic plan, or campaign, that you have to solve that problem.
JoAnn Lawrence: You mean you state a problem and directly follow with a section on the solution?
Lou Traina: Yes. The problem statement is critical because usually donors do not really understand the magnitude of the problem. You have to be consistent with the problem statement in everything you do, in all the literature and presentations, so you’re not confusing people. If you ask Board members, often they give you different answers as to how they see the problem the nonprofit is addressing. Once you have the evidence, then that allows the donor to see the magnitude of the problem. This being so powerful, you really need to educate on them on the problem. Education is part of the process of cultivation.
By Dr. Lou Traina, CFRM, Senior Consultant, and JoAnn Lawrence, Fundraising, Marketing and Communications Specialist at Soukup Strategic Solutions