Making Your Case

Partnerships are formed because two (or more) organizations have faith that they will make 1 + 1 = 3. Without a strong relationship history, how can do you build the needed trust to initiate a partnership and have it thrive in the long run?

There are two ways that organizations do this when starting a fresh relationship, 1. a case for support, and 2. a data room. The case for support is what tells your story and outlines why you deserve investment, the data room provides the evidence.

Let’s start by going over what makes an outstanding case for support. A case for support is a document that outlines the need for a nonprofit organization’s programs and services and explains how these programs and services address that need. It is an important tool for fundraising and for communicating with potential donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders about the work of the organization. It can be a powerpoint deck, a word document, or even a video – as long as it tells your story and includes the key components that partner organizations look for.

7 reasons why every nonprofit organization needs a case for support:

  1. Tell the world why you exist: Your case does one thing above all else: it communicates your raison d’etre, the “why” at the core of your organization. Partners want to know the intimate details about you so that they can assess whether you will be a good fit for their investment of resources, time, and/or energy as the case may be. What could be more intimate than detailing the core reason of your existence? Your case for support should offer the simplest version of your why to your audience and allow them to understand your purpose.
  2. Show the team behind the work: Organizations are made up of people. You are not just a logo, website, or phone number at your organization – you are a team. Your partners will want to know who they are working with and who they might need to interact with if things go down the path of success. Showing who will be doing the work goes a long way to building the trust and confidence needed to land a partnership.
  3. Advocate your advantages: Every organization exists within a landscape – what sets you apart from the rest? What gives your organization the advantage in solving your problems and achieving your goals? If you can detail these advantages, you provide a strong case for investment of resources and time from your partner.
  4. Showcasing your work and impact: Not only does showing your work help your prospective partners understand you, it helps you understand your own organization. By showing the specific pieces of how you have worked collaboratively, evaluated your impact, and benefited the community, you will attract others to want to work with you.
  5. Celebrating your legacy: It’s good to recognize where you’ve come from and what you’ve done – it’s better to celebrate it. Speaking proudly about your work and history is vital to inspiring new partnerships. Go deep and involve past staff, board, and donors, maybe some of them will re-engage with you as donors and help build your case for support!
  6. Showcasing your model and how you work: Every organization works in a different way. Are you a foundation with an endowment? Are you a CSR department with a set departmental budget? Are you a nonprofit with an events-based fundraising model? Show how you operate, where your money comes from, and how you use it to make the world a better place, by doing so you will pull back the curtain and give confidence to your potential partners.
  7. Creating a common narrative for your team: The biggest piece of a case of support that goes unappreciated is its utility as a communications tool for your biggest advocates, your board and staff. By bringing the team together to build and refine the case, you are helping everyone to practice the language of your organization and communicate that language to the world. A common narrative stemming from a well crafted plan are the fundamental aspects of prospect engagement.

Increasingly, organizations also maintain data rooms (cloud-based drives containing key documents) for information that funders and stakeholders want to access before making decisions on partnerships. It’s vital that your organization prepare and organize your information so that you are ready to share it when asked.

Key elements of a case for support and data room:

  • Story and background: In this section, detail the history of your organization. Paint a picture, starting at the beginning during the startup phases of work. Who was there? Then lead your audience down the timeline of your journey, sharing the details that describe your greatest challenges and accomplishments, and what has led you to this moment.
  • Mission / vision and value statements: You should have a clear statement of purpose which defines the problem that you are solving (the reason for your existence). Your statement needs to include your core beliefs and values, and needs to detail what fuels your passion for the work that you do and how you do it.
  • Goals and objectives: This section follows the mission statement because it details what you do to achieve your purpose. Goals are the building blocks that your objectives, and then services and programs, live within; therefore, they can be high level and ambitious. Your objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) in nature and come from your goals, detailing what you will achieve, and when it will be done by.
  • Governance: The structure of your organization, including your constitution and by-laws, are important for potential partners to review. This will give them a sense of who you are. You’ll want to include things like your organization’s “org chart”, board history, founding documents and amendments, and other relevant information that shows how you operate.
  • Team: Biographies of all team members (staff, board, consultants, and committee members) will highlight the “who” behind your organization and what they bring to the table in terms of skills and experience.
  • Budget: The numbers matter and are one of the most important elements of any partnership. You need to show the financial viability of the organization and project, including financial projections and costs, and who else is funding it.
  • Services / Programs: When you outline the services or programs you offer, you have the opportunity to demonstrate the ways that you work to deliver your solutions to the problem that you are solving. Provide context to each program and service including its unique history and goals/objectives, and a SWOT analysis (analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).
  • Evaluation and planning documents: This is where you can back up what you are saying with evidence. Have a fundraising objective? Show your plan. Have an impact objective? Show what you are currently achieving with objective data. Include strategic/business plans, theories of change, and case statements here.

You might also include other information such as key differentiators between you and similar organizations to help funders make a decision about why they should choose you to invest in.

Funder organizations shouldn’t ignore this post, cases for support are effective tools for funders to not only attract the right organizations, but to help keep them focused on their investment theory. Funders should include the same information considered for nonprofits and share this information upon request, this provide higher quality opportunities from more aligned prospective partners.

Without a case for support organizations make themselves less compelling for investment and open themselves up to mission drift, reactive fundraising, volunteer churn, a disengaged board, and stale partnerships. By keeping a fresh case for support and data room, you are keeping yourself ready by keeping your case sharp so that any potential partner can clearly see why they should back you.

Not sure where to start? Reach out to Orgmatch and we can help you build your case for support and organize your data room.