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The Power of a Case

By Nell Edgington

Most businesses that are looking for funding know the power of a case for support, although they probably call it their “pitch” or “deck.”  But most nonprofit organizations don’t have an articulated case for support, and this is a real missed opportunity. A case for support is absolutely critical to any kind of fundraising campaign, in the nonprofit or for-profit world, and whether the money sought is investment capital or operating revenue.

A case for support lays out a clear, articulate, compelling argument for why someone should invest in the solution you are providing the marketplace.  Nonprofit organizations do tend to put together a case for support when they embark on a capital campaign to raise significant money for a new building.  But a case for support should be the fundamental building block to ANY fundraising campaign.  Without a case for support, nonprofits are just holding out a tin cup.

I’m not suggesting that a nonprofit create a case for support and then trot it out whenever they meet with, mail or talk to a potential donor.  Rather a solid case for support is a starting point from which the nonprofit can pull arguments and language for use in every aspect of their fundraising operations:  website, appeals, thank you notes, presentations, major donor calls, foundation proposals, etc.

The very exercise of a nonprofit board and staff creating a case statement can be, in itself, transformative.  It makes the organization as a whole articulate why someone should invest in them and what the payoff is.  This articulation can energize and focus the organization and make their fundraising efforts that much  more effective.

A case for support has some key elements:

  1. The Need (Market Opportunity)
    What social problem exists in your community, region, state, country, world that needs to be addressed?  Why is this problem significant, why should people care?
  2. The Solution
    What is your solution to the social problem? Why is this the right solution?
  3. Competitors and Competitive Advantage
    Why is yours a superior solution to other alternatives out there? Something that is often missing in nonprofit articulations of their case is how their solution fits into the competitive landscape.
  4. Value Proposition
    Why is your organization uniquely positioned to deliver on this solution?  What is the value proposition you offer and how do your core competencies feed this solution?
  5. Resources Required
    How much money, what type, and over what timeline do you require for this particular project (start-up, growth, increased capacity, general operating, etc.)? This section will vary based on the fundraising campaign.
  6. Projected Social Return on Investment
    What does the potential investor get by investing in your organization (change to a social problem, increased breadth or depth of service delivery, etc.)?  If you can demonstrate a social return on investment, that’s great.  If you can demonstrate an increase in program and operational efficiency (in the case of a capacity building fundraising campaign) then do.

A full case for support is not something you would normally share with potential donors.  However, the process of articulating your case for support and then using elements of it in all of your fundraising work can dramatically increase your ability to effectively communicate with and secure investments from donors.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 Capacity Building, Fundraising, Nonprofits

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4 Comments to The Power of a Case

February 16, 2010

What a clear description of a case for support! I find that many nonprofit leaders think that their case for support is obvious and, like you said, don’t take the time to think hard and critically about it. Thanks for this post!

Nell Edgington
February 16, 2010

Thanks Annie. Yes, I agree, many nonprofit leaders and staffs spend so much time in the day-to-day work of the organization that they forget to take a more removed, big picture view of the organization, the problem it is addressing and where it fits in the marketplace.

Jara Dean-Coffey
February 18, 2010

Helpful framing of a how to make a case statement. It would be interesting to overlap with the traditional processes in which nonprofits tend to engage to illustrate how one can answer the critical questions posed.

Nell Edgington
February 18, 2010


That’s an interesting idea. Can you explain more about what you have in mind?

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