Ask like a five-year-old!
Learn how to write your fundraising case from a master!
Dear Sr. Veronica,
My 5-year-old came to me this morning with a story to tell. He bubbled over about how his friends had all gotten nifty new rubber band guns and how it was REALLY important that he get one, too. He didn’t want to be left out. He wouldn’t be able to play with his friends without one. All of the coolest kids had a rubber band gun. He could use it to learn how to shoot all of the bad guys and protect momma. He really just had to have it. PLEASE DADDY!!?!?!
He had an end goal in mind, getting a cool new toy, but he didn’t just tell me about the toy and ask me to give it to him. Instead, he presented a whole list of reasons, carefully thought out and delivered in the kind of rambling monologue that only a kindergartner can pull off with total seriousness.
He may not have realized it, but he was building a case for support. This is also your first step for your capital campaign.
Moving daddy’s heart (or your donor’s)
The case for support is the foundation of capital campaign fundraising. At its most simple, a case for support is a document that explains the nature of a project, the impact that the project will have on your organization, and how much the project will cost. You will used this document to encourage donors to give big gifts in support of your campaign.
It should not just be a factual document, although facts are important. It must be a persuasive document. Your goal is for a person who encounters your case statement to be strongly moved to make a gift. A big gift. Maybe the biggest gift they have ever made.
How do you do this? Contrary to popular belief, facts are not all that good for raising money. When article run in the paper stating that 10% of your community is living in poverty, most people read it, shake their head at the misfortune of others, finish their coffee, and go on with their day. Facts and statistics are not the best tool for moving a person to action. If, on the other hand, you get a letter from an organization that tells you about Danny, who is seven and living with his grandmother who is on a fixed income and sometimes doesn’t get anything to eat on the weekend, you’ll get out your checkbook and sign on the dotted line, if you are told that your check will make a difference in Danny’s life.
The same principle applies to the case for support for your capital campaign. You’re not trying to convince the donors to give by giving them facts and figures that explain what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to inspire them to give by telling the story of how your campaign will make a difference in your lives and in the life of the Church. Move their hearts, and their checkbooks will follow.
Tell your story
You’re not trying to manipulate your donors. Most people are smart enough to know when you’re trying to manipulate them, and it makes them angry. What you’re trying to do is sincerely tell the story of what you want to accomplish with this capital campaign in a way that gets people excited.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and here’s the structure I suggest (although there are lots of different ways to do this… just Google “Church Case Statement” and you’ll pull up 100 examples). The following structure will give you a solid starting point, and you can modify it as necessary.
- Introduction – You should start your case statement with a letter from your mother superior thanking the donors for giving her a little of their time. She should talk about the call to the religious life, the ancient legacy of the contemplative life, and the gift that it is to the sisters who are called and to the Church as a whole. I have heard it said that the call of the contemplative vocation is a call to be prayer in the heart of the Church.
- Explain the need – To live out your call to build a monastic community, you’re going to need a new monastery. You’ll need to explain why this new space is needed. If the donor doesn’t perceive a pressing need to give, they won’t. You have to make it clear to your audience that your current monastic environment just won’t work for your current or future needs.
- Lay out the new vision – You’ve told me that you’ve already had some plans created for the new monastery. If you have drawings, include them. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Use short bullet points to highlight key features of the new facility that will get people excited. Pay special attention to how the physical attributes of the new space will meet the spiritual needs that your superior identified in the opening letter. While the physical building is important, I think it is more important to point to the spiritual purpose behind it.
- How/what to give – The case statement needs a fundraising goal so your audience realizes that you’re asking for large gifts, not just the change out of their couch. The building has a price tag and that’s why you’re talking to them. You have a couple of different options on how you break up the cost. One effective way to do so is show the individual costs for different pieces of the monastery. The Chapel will cost so much, the dormitory so much, the refectory and kitchen so much, etc. I would suggest adding an amount for an endowment for the order, even as much as $2 million more than your build cost. That increases the total price tag, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
- Closing – You’ve just gone through the numbers of what you need for this capital campaign to be successful. Now you’re going to make your ask. It should be an emotional and spiritual appeal. Thank the donors for their time, and ask them to prayerfully consider making a gift to make the vision possible. Restate the vision, not in terms of money and buildings, but in terms of the spiritual fruit that will come from their investment in your religious life. There are lots of good scripture references that can be used here about their gifts making them a part of your apostolic work. One of my favorites is, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet receives a prophet’s reward.” (Matthew 10:41) Their gift truly makes them a participant in your apostolic work.
All of this needs to be tastefully designed and compiled into a booklet that can be left or sent to a potential donor. I don’t know if you have any sisters with a knack for graphic design or web development, but you need to have a matching paper and web version of your case statement that looks like you know what you’re doing. Looking a little bit homespun can work for some things, but you’re trying to raise 8-10 million dollars. You need to invest the time and energy, and potentially money, to create a professional looking case statement. How it looks is just about as important as what it says.
Lights, camera, action
One of the most powerful tools that you can use for conveying your case statement is video. I’m guessing that you don’t have any videographers in your midst. It is worth it to hire professionals to help you to take your written case statement and bring it to the small screen.
The video case statement will include all of the above elements in the same order. Instead of the written word, however, you’ll have your superior and other sisters talking about the need for your new monastery. I recommend talking to the architect that is designing the new monastery and find out if he can do virtual fly through of the planned facility. It’s amazing what they can do with their software nowadays. If you can add a 3D model to your video, it can really make your project come alive in the imagination of the donor.
The video case statement can and should be included on the website and also available as a DVD that can be sent to potential donors. It doesn’t need to be word for word identical with written case statement. In fact it shouldn’t be. The written version should use more formal, even poetic language that works on paper but would sound awkward coming out of sister’s mouths. The video version can be less formal and show more of the personalities of the various sisters. It should help a potential donor connect with who you are as much as what you’re trying to do.
This will cost money, but it’s more than worth it in the long run. A well made video does a wonderful job of conveying a lot of information in a short amount of time. More importantly, it can help make the ask personal by introducing potential donors to your life and the sisters who live it. The strong emotional connection gives them the best possible reason give a large gift. It can also help to create an emotional connection for someone who is just getting to know you or only knows you vaguely.
Take them to the toy shop
At the end of my son’s request, he asked if I would take him to the toy store so he could show me just how awesome the new rubber band gun is. He is convinced that if I can just see it in person, I’ll take the plunge and he’ll find it under the Christmas tree.
Your fundraising case is important. You need to have one that tells your story and persuades the donor. But know this, before you’re done and the donation is in the bank, you’re going to need to bring your donors to the toy store. That means inviting them to experience your life and your prayer in such a way that they personally experience the value of it. The more personal the connection they make with your monastic life, the more likely they are to support your capital campaign and beyond.
The case statement will get them in the door of the toy shop, and it should bring them back to the toy shop if a second look is needed. What ultimately will make the decision for them is that the case statement matches the reality that they encounter at your monastery. My sister-in-law is a Carmelite Nun in Buffalo. Visiting the Carmelites is like standing at the doorstep to heaven. If your potential donors have that same experience when they come to talk to you.
But that gets into the second key tool that you’ll need for your capital campaign… your plan. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so I’ll write more on that later.
P.S. What do you think? Should I get my son the toy he wants? He has made a case that is hard to resist. “What father among you, when asked for an egg will give them a scorpion?” My boy certainly knows how to ask. Makes me proud.
Today’s post is the second letter in the second volume of the “Letters from the Almoner” series. These fictional letters will open a window into conversations between a professional fundraiser and a religious sister who running a capital campaign to raise money to build a new monastery.