Listen to The Small Nonprofit podcast on your favourite platform:

your case for support from the ground up with Leah Eustace

blog photo: your case for support from the ground up with Leah Eustace

Also listen at:

iTunesGoogle MusicStitcher

Everyone always talks about needing a case for support. And sometimes they confuse it with a pitch deck. And oftentimes, they'll write one without really understanding how to do it well. So today, we're going to pull back the curtain and show people how to do well.

I think there's a lot of kind of inertia around these things. And I've been there myself, it just feels overwhelming. Is it really necessary? Is it really urgent? For small nonprofits, it can feel like it's just another thing to do.

So tell us a little bit about why we need one and what exactly is the case for support?

Today's version of a case for support is really meant as an inspiration piece. I like to kind of refer to it like a rallying cry. It's a document that doesn't need to be tied to a capital campaign of any kind. At least 75% of the cases I write these days are called an organizational case or a brand story. So the organization's story in narrative format, as opposed to something like a strategic plan. The organizational story is hitting at the emotional side of what you do. It can be short or long. It can be a page of really amazing copy that tells your organization's story. It can be 20 pages. It can be whatever it needs to be. It can be words on your website. It doesn't have to be a printed glossy, coffee table looking book. I think that's helpful for people to understand that it doesn't have to be one of these traditional case statements that's so long and requires so much work.

I see this mistake, where we look at the old style of case for support, which is very factual. And we know and science is telling us that that's actually not motivating for people to see statistics. That the narrative piece is much more compelling. It's not just like we prefer the narrative that this is actually more effective.

We've learned so much, even in just the last 15 or 20 years, about the psychology of giving, which is one of the reasons that cases for support have been changing. What we know for sure is and research backs all of this up, that including facts and figures and stats will turn off that impulse to give. Giving comes from the heart, it's it it is an emotional reaction. Not a logical one, although we may justify later on, as a logical decision, it's absolutely emotional.

We've also learned the incredible power of story. So Lots of research has been done around, you know whether telling donors a story generates more response than a citation of facts about an organization versus a combination of the two. Every single study shows that telling the story of one person is the most effective thing.

We also know that our mind is making a lot of unconscious and subconscious decisions for us. We look to a voice of authority. So whether that be a researcher, a doctor, the principal of a school, we subconsciously will look to them to help guide our decision making. We also look at social proof, especially in cases for support where we're looking to the actions of other people and subconsciously, we will follow their lead. So that's why things like testimonials and first person stories from donors are so important. Or even language like "everyday donors just like you (fill in the blank)" that can be really effective.

So let's talk a little bit about the process then. So we understand we need a case for support. We know it does not imply any specific type of document or anything else mentioned. It could be on your website, it can be a one pager can be a 20 pager. The important thing is that it's the narrative format, rallying cry around why give, why support the work. So now that we know that we've demystified some of the big scary terms around case for support, let's talk about how we then go about doing it in a way, as you said, that really gets everyone on the same page and excited about the work. Where do we start?

I'll tell you where I would start. When I'm putting together a case for sport, I spend probably 80 to 85% of the time on the background - gathering information, doing interviews, and so on. And really only 15% of the time writing.

A mistake I often see is people jump in and try to start writing without doing any of that background or digging deep or doing interviews. There's two reasons to do all the background. One is that we can't assume that what's in our head about why we exist is this is kind of universally held belief. And also by doing all that background it it helps you move from your head to your heart so that when you get to the point of actually writing you're really feeling your work. I read everything I can get my hands on, and I would do that in whether I was in a nonprofit or as a consultant. Gather your last annual report, gather your newsletters, gather all your program descriptions, gather a couple of grant proposals. Just pull everything together and start reading. Start to jot down some of the gems. So, you know that major accomplishment your nonprofit had two years ago, take note of it. Something that particularly resonated with your donors five years ago, take note of it. So you're pulling out some of the highlights. And it's not until I've done all that, that I will move into interviews and interviews are the most important part of preparing a case. Interviews are where you'll get the stories and you'll get the emotion.

You want them to paint a picture of the future. You know, if you had all the money in the world, where would your organization be? You want to ask them questions like, if we didn't exist, what would that mean to the community? And I have a two or three page document of questions like that. Open ended questions you could ask. You want them to be doing all the talking.

And as you do interviews, you'll realize you need to do a few more. I've done as many as 50. And as few as three. It really depends on who are your passionate storytellers.

So then, when the interviews are done, what are some of the gems that I've pulled out of the interviews? How do all the stories fit together? And I start to frame out the case.

I don't worry too much about a really amazing couple of sentence opening that comes at the end. If I want narrative around our accomplishments and our history, what's the best story to tell, dig back, start to frame that out. If I need to talk about the problem we're aiming to solve. What's the best story? What's the best narrative around that? We need to talk about the solution to the problem. What are we doing that solves this problem for the donor? And where's the best story for that?

I almost never write more than about 1500 to 1700 words for a case for support. So those are my longest ones. And that's not very long. like five pages.

So much of your writing, I'm sure it's not actually writing. It's editing and reducing and, really clarifying. How do we distill the information now that we have so much of it?

Sketching it out. And figuring out what's really important. The mistake I often see in a case for support is organizations trying to educate and build awareness through their case. At the end of the day, your audience, certainly for this, should always be donors - donors and prospective donors. It's not the general public. So if someone goes to the trouble of going to your website, they're already there's some interest or some relationship. So you don't need to spend a whole lot of time building awareness about your cause, or try to educate people. And if, if you take all of that out, it's much easier to get to 1500 words. Yes. What do they want to hear about?

Resources from this Episode

The Good Partnership


The Case Writers

Blue Canoe Philanthropy

Email Leah at

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano