Forum Webinar: Creating a Successful Case Statement

By Forum Online posted 07-06-2020 15:16


On June 24, Preservation Leadership Forum, in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission presented the Forum Webinar "Creating a Successful Case Statement." The webinar recording is now available along with some responses to follow up questions. 

DescriptionFundraising is about building a compelling case for support for your organization—its mission, the programs you offer, and the projects that you implement to serve your constituency. This case is equal parts storytelling and facts and figures to support your narrative. While an engaging narrative is essential to building a case, it is important to ensure that as you present to a funder, you address the critical items that funders are looking for and that they will respond positively to. This is especially important now, with increased calls on funders’ purses in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In this webinar, experienced fundraiser Anjali Zutshi provides guidelines for developing a strong case statement, which will better position your organization's efforts to build financial support.This webinar is part of a series by Preservation Leadership Forum dedicated to supporting the preservation community during the coronavirus pandemic. This webinar is developed in partnership with the Texas Historical Commission.

A group discussion at PastForward in Denver, Colorado. Credit: David Keith Photography


Any specific advice for retaining members in a membership organization during COVID when we can't deliver programming, which is one of the membership benefits?

Membership retention is an issue many non-profits are dealing with. One way to address the issue of providing programming during this time of shut-downs and social distancing, is to try and develop digital programming. An example, shared by the National Trust recently, is the Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society. The museum has created a series of short videos, primarily with images they already had, and with narration by the ED, which I thought were wonderful. This kind of digital programming is extremely low cost (you can put this together with a phone camera and images), and you can proactively share this with your membership, keeping them engaged. Another idea would be to try and set up virtual gatherings—something like a coffee and chat session with your curator, or a program staff, to talk about a specific collection, or a project they are working on. Communication is key in keeping your membership engaged, and if you can take the programming to their homes, even if it is not the most polished and sophisticated, they will stay engaged.

How much should we at this time of great change focus on maintaining our recent donors vs seeking new donors. Is this a time to be conservative and stick with what we've done before or should we be willing to take risks, based on the Why of our mission?

Organizations should continue to cultivate and stewards their existing donors, but as you say, this is a time for the leadership of an organization to come together and think through any changes they would like to implement to address what is happening in our country right now. As I shared in my presentation, talking about the “Why” of an organization is most important at any time, but especially now. We are seeing history in the making right now in this country, and while we do “collect, preserve, and interpret”, that is really the “how” of what historic preservation organizations do. I would say, if your organization’s leadership tackles the question of the “Why,” and proactively puts that out front, ahead of the “how,” you might see a broadening of your support base.

In your opinion, what exactly are funders looking for when deciding to support the preservation of African American sites?

I would recommend that you call the prospective donors you are hoping to submit requests to and have this conversation. I you have a specific site that you are trying to raise funds for, and have a clear program/project identified to support the preservation and interpretation of that site, you should share that information, and request feedback from the donor. Most donors, especially foundation, will give you candid advice and guidance.

How would a project team optimize fundraising using phasing/staging, timing, momentum building/maintenance?

This depends on the project, but I am assuming this related to a capital project. For capital campaigns, the fundraising starts way ahead of the shovel hitting the dirt. The most effective capital campaign requires that you begin with a feasibility study. This will provide information on whether you have the donor base to support the campaign, and whether your donors are ready to commit significant gifts towards your campaign. The next step is of course putting together a strong prospect list and cultivate the potential donors. A successful capital campaign will require at least 75% of the total project costs committed or in hand, before breaking ground on the construction. For long-term programs, that continue from year to year, you should start fundraising at least 6 months before the beginning of the program (or the beginning of the next year of programmatic activities.)

Any fundraising/grant-writing advice is always welcome!

The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission is hosting a two day development seminar – “Elements of Successful Philanthropy – Building a Comprehensive and Sustainable Development Program for your Organization” on July 15/16, 2020.  This online seminar covers all aspects of fundraising, including grant writing.

Could you address "making a case" as it relates to planned giving and building a general unrestricted endowment fund?

My answer to this question assumes that you are trying to build support for a general unrestricted endowment and are using planned giving as one of the mechanisms. The process for making a case is the same, regardless of the fundraising tool you are employing, or the purpose for which you are building support. In your case, you will need to keep in mind that planned gifts are very long term, but your planned gift donor is making the gift based on their view of the organization’s viability and stability. Your planned gift donors will have been with your organization for a while and will know of your successes and your impact, but you do need to reiterate it. Remind the donor about why you exist (the needs in the community you have been founded to address), how you do address the needs, and what you need them to do.

Any advice on how to respond to questions that have come up in grant applications about how your project addresses social justice?

I would recommend being absolutely honest in your reply to this question. If your project does address social justice, then you should be able to provide the details. If however, you have not addressed the issue so far, you do want to provide the appropriate answer. If this project does offer room for you to address the issue, I would recommend discussing the possibility with your leadership and creating a plan for how you might do that. You can then share that plan in your grant request, an provide the details in subsequent reports.

How can our organization compete for funding with the combination of increased calls on funders' purses in response to COVID-19 AND Black Lives Matter?

During times of crisis and significant social change and unrest, funders do tend to redirect their focus, albeit temporarily, to those issues. Our job, as fundraisers, is to continue communicating about how our organization and its mission does its bit to address critical needs in our communities. Foundation funders have specific areas of focus that they support. While they may temporarily redirect their focus to address a crisis, they will return to their focus areas. Individual donors are a little different, and in order to retain their support, you have to continue to communicate, cultivate, and steward your donors.


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