What Makes a Great Case for Support?

by Barbara Barron | Posted October 5th, 2022 | Subscribe to this newsletter

For most of us, the phrase “case for support” is associated with capital campaigns. Big, glossy, expensive brochures that show massive buildings to be built, nosebleed-high fundraising goals, and all the places where one might have their name inscribed — if they can stretch to give a gift of seven or eight figures.

And then there’s real life.

Not that there aren’t independent schools with those kinds of campaigns. There are. But they are the minority. Most schools are much smaller, with far more modest goals. Aspirations might be just as big, but our communities are not as well-resourced.

But still, a capital campaign case for support is important.

The “great case” is the road map to show a donor what the project is, what good it will do for the school, and how the school and its leaders plan to pay for it. It need not be all that fancy or costly. In fact, most donors I have had the honor of sitting with would prefer we tell it to them clearly, without a lot of distracting glitz. And they most assuredly don’t want us to spend a fortune printing the blessed thing.

OK, not fancy.

So what are the elements of a good or even great case for support?

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The Elements of a Great Case

I like to explain it using the structure of a good story:

1. A clear problem to be solved or an obstacle to be overcome. We have a hero (the school and its mission) that is facing a challenge. Something is in the way of it being as heroic as it could be.

2. The solution. How do we plan to solve the problem or remove the obstacle? (what is our heroine action plan?)

3. What will be achieved when we do? How will the problem be solved, the obstacle removed (and what will life be like when the dream comes true?)

Too often, the bulk of the ink and space in these pieces is devoted to #1 and #2.

Now, I am all in for a compelling story and an elegant solution. But the section that often gets shorted is #3. What will we accomplish when this project is complete? And by that, I don’t mean a list of features. Sure, they are easy to compile and enumerate. But trust me, do not stop there. Mere features don’t inspire.

I can assure you that no donor was ever moved to make a significant gift because we told them we were adding blah blah blah thousand square feet of space. Or six “state-of-the-art” (so trite) new science labs. Or four multi-use classrooms. That moves no one. Instead, talk benefits. What difference with this new reality make?

Paint a Picture

Share how those additional square feet will mean that the entire student body and faculty can come together for assemblies and community time. Show how those additional learning spaces make interdisciplinary learning come to life. And how the science labs will enable the school to attract and retain outstanding science teachers who will take our program to the next level.

When you can articulate, with passion and everyday examples, the difference the project will make to your school and its mission, you will be far more likely to inspire support. Everyone wants to be part of something big and bold — and even breathtaking.

That goes for other cases for support, too. When making a proposal for a major gift project, lean into how the donor’s gift will improve life on campus or fuel a more robust professional development program. Show them a new reality that their philanthropy is making possible. Even for our everyday annual funds, a solid case, embedded with the benefits our teachers and students experience every day because of – and only because of – the generosity of the community will land far better than one that relies on the dreaded “gap.”

Stay away from that pit. It leads nowhere but to a deadening sense of lack. And depressed giving.

Go big. Aim high. Tell the story your donors are eager to hear: that they can and will make a real difference. Let them be your heroes!

Be well,

Barbara Barron

[email protected] // @BBAdvancement

About the Author

My name is Barbara Barron, and I’m writing this blog to share advice on a profession that I adore.

I’ve been working in the field of Independent School Advancement for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of creating and implementing successful fundraising plans and programs for so many incredible schools. I’ve had the privilege of seeing real growth at The Carey School, Marin Primary & Middle School, Woodside Priory, Crystal Springs, Presidio Knolls, Sage Ridge, and San Diego French American, and others. (Maybe we’ve met!)

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a struggling school start to thrive. My hope is that you’re here to make a positive change as well. I hope my advice can be a part of that change.

Shoot me an e-mail if you want to swap tips, or share your voice here.

Let’s do this, together.

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