The Case for Support

In asking any donor for a major gift, where they must stop and think before replying, you are unlikely to succeed unless your target is aware of the problem you are trying to solve, agrees it is a serious problem and believes that your organisation can help solve it. They are also likely to want to know the answers to a series of other questions. At the head of that list is: ‘Why are you asking me for this amount?” and “What exactly will you spend it on?’ followed by the often unspoken question ‘What does this mean for my relationship with you and the organisation?’
The case for support sets out the answers to all these questions; so that, well before you ask, the donor is sold on the idea and keen to help. The only question left being the level of gift they should make and number of years over which to spread that gift. Setting this out in writing, so that it is unambiguous and can be studied at leisure, gives a lot of reassurance that you will carry out what you say you are going to undertake. It also contains a useful list those factors that might sway a decision; such as the status of members of your main committees, and your ‘receipt of donations policy’ so there is no misunderstanding about the acceptability of any kind of donation. Of course, this is also a useful time to set out the tax advantages of any donation.


The contents are listed in simple form below, but a really convincing case for support is much more than a list. It will both move emotionally, with its engaging description of need and clear illustrations, and also convince intellectually; by demonstrating the past success and expertise of the organisation, coupled with a clear plan to execute the programme for which the funds are sought. All this is then wrapped in a design which itself is relevant to the kind of organisation you are and the style of your branding. Major Donors are often buying into all this as they adopt involvement with your organisation as part of their life, and for that to happen you and your organisation should become part of their lifestyle.
The design of an excellent major donor programme will often revolve around the need for an appropriate series of involvements that do not jar with the donor’s lifestyle expectations. Demonstrating how spartan you can be may have one-off shock value but is unlikely to impress in the long-term; neither is embarrassingly lavish hospitality. Pitch your literature to your target readership.
Similarly, the right level must be struck with the case for support. Essentially it should contain:
A short history: why your organisation was set up and how it met that challenge.
A demonstration of its professionalism: the biog of key figures, any awards it has won, a list of prestigious patrons or ambassadors, key committee members and any other signifiers of status or expertise.
A simple explanation of the new need. This should be capable of being summed up in a sentence or two; “Before the lift doors open, tell me why you need the money”.
A clear explanation of how that need will be met.
Diagrams and easily understandable plans and architect’s or artist’s drawing of any building.
A schedule for the sums you need and their expenditure.
Naming opportunities.
How and where to pay or who to contact to discuss the appeal.
Tax effective giving information.
An acceptance of funds policy.
A giving chart.

Patrons and Ambassadors

We live amidst a celebrity culture, and though we may all deny it is of any personal consequence, it would be foolish to ignore its consequences. Appropriate patrons with expertise in the field, or status in society, have always been associated with charities and worthy ventures; adding their names to show support and demonstrate the validity of the organisation’s claims. Today the emphasis has shifted and, though still useful and valid, this type of traditional patron carries little weight and enthusiasm beside an appropriate national or international celebrity. If one is trying to attract the rich and influential then the chance to meet and hang-out with the right celebrities is a very strong pull. Certain business people, politicians and Royalty are, of course, celebrities in their own right and others are highly influential with potential major donors, especially when they are prime targets for networking. Including a strong mix of patrons in your major donor programmer can capture the interest and imagination of donors and cement their loyalty. The ‘once in a lifetime’ moment of meeting a favourite actor or author can have a profound impact. The recognition of this has been behind the traditional involvement of celebrities with charities, and it should not be forgotten even in a supposedly more egalitarian society.
Organisations are sometimes worried that their sole patron will be put out if they ask others to become patrons. It is an extremely rare patron who is not delighted to share the burden; and many, when asked, turn out to be rather annoyed they have been asked to shoulder the burden on their own. Even Royal patrons can just be set aside on the stationery as ‘Royal Patrons’ or ‘Royal Patron’ and others added under ‘Patrons’ beneath them.
It is useful to have a set of say, a dozen patrons because it is likely that at least one will be free to attend any important event you organise. When writing to people to ask them to become a patron the rules of the game should be clearly set out. For example you can say that, ‘Patrons allow us to use their name in our literature and attend one event per year at their convenience’. Probably one third of the people you ask will not write back, one third will say, ‘yes’ and one third will say, ‘yes, but in name only, I cannot attend any events’. You will then need to decide if the value of the latter’s name makes it worth including in your list, knowing they will not come to events. Obviously, you do not want to clutter up your patron’s list too much with those who will be non-responsive to invitations.
I like to include a few actors in any list because they have trained voices and can follow a script or read movingly from literature. Often organisations have stories of their clients’ lives, poems or prose that carries a real feel of their personal situation that movingly read attracts strong sympathy. Indeed, those stories are worth cultivating and distributing as part of your marketing programme. A major donor, when asked why they support an organisation, will often come out with such a story: ‘Well, I was at one of their receptions at the Lords, last year, and I met a client who said, ”She was… when…” and I have supported them ever since then’.
Patrons too may give though they should not be approached until, like major donors, they are at the point where they are really keen to help financially. If they give too soon this may inoculate them against turning up at events (which is, after all, why you asked them to be a patron) or offering the exciting opportunities that their lifestyle brings with it. Do discuss with them the people that they know, the events they attend, the doors they can open and think imaginatively about all these. This will often provide the exclusive contacts and events which will bring to life both your private and public phases, giving them the wow factor that adds a few noughts to the level of donations.
It takes time for patrons to be approved by governing authorities who are often uncomfortable with celebrity involvement. Start early in developing a policy for patrons and in listing possibilities; so that you have a team of new and exciting patrons in place when the private phase kicks off. The value of nationally known celebrities keen to help you cannot be over-emphasised.

The Giving Chart

I like to use a giving chart for any one-to-one request for funds. It is really a capital appeal tool and the following can be adapted to suit a capital appeal quite easily. As you can see from the example, it simply sets out how many people are needed to give at each level of gift to reach the total required. This makes it exceptionally easy to sit down with someone and showing them the chart to say something like, ‘We have raised £1m already, could you kindly help us by donating £500,000 to ensure we can complete our appeal’. In fact I find the first gift is often the easiest to secure as you can indicate that this is the most important donation, and the one that really will enable you to raise the rest.
The chart will need to be adapted for your individual programme, timescale and potential reach to donors (ignoring trusts and event income that a capital appeal might include). It is customary for the top donation to be 10% of the total, however, with a major donor programme you may want to relax this to indicate a more even split of income, unless you have a strong hierarchy of wealth and closeness to the organisation.
I find it easiest to actually sit alongside the donor with the chart open between us and take them through it down to the level at which I am going to ask them to give. This process is elaborated on in on asking and thanking.
Organisations often naively think they have only to find one multi-millionaire to fund their entire project. This occurrence is so rare that we can put it out of our minds as otherwise it will distort our expectations and delay the successful implementation of the strategy. Usually despite any sensationalist account you might read a ‘sole’ donor is both very well known to the organisation having visited and made several donations before, but is also insistent they are not alone in funding the project. Organisations frequently come unstuck in expecting their lead donor to keep the organisation afloat when they have not even discussed the issue with them. Consultants are often brought in at the point where organisations have failed to put in professional fundraising activities or failed to fund their fundraising properly and then turned to an unsympathetic key donor for another large donation.
The Gift Chart starts at 10% of the total sum needed for the good reason that experience teaches that this is usually the comfort level of the top donor, and provides security for the organisation in that a substantial part of its income is not from one donor. The implication is, however, that there is needs to be a lot more major donors in a hierarchy of giving.
If your prospects wealth and propensity to give are fairly equal it may be better to arrange them into giving clubs with an impressive Chairperson, where several people are asked to give at the same rate. The Gift Chart then becomes an illustration of how those clubs combined meet the total sum needed. See Giving Clubs.
The giving chart can be structured in a number of ways, many consultants recommend that the top gift is up to 40% or 50% of the total with a subsequent reduction in the number of gifts at the lower end. A very serious assessment of the potential donations will be required to make this crucial calculation. Many of the smaller gifts come from the public appeal, and the size and duration of that appeal will need to be estimated. A key decision here is at what point in the income do you move to the public appeal. Is this at the conventional 50-70% point or earlier or later?
See also Blackbaud’s online gift chart calculator at::

Acceptance of Funds Policy

The need for an Acceptance of Funds policy or fundraising guidelines often goes unheeded by organisations, until key stakeholders violently object to a large donation from a well known company or individual; and may even manage to gain the organisation much negative national publicity. An Acceptance of Funds Policy is a delight in helping organisations to make decisions in abstract before such tempers are inflamed. It is said that, ‘hard cases make bad law’ and this is no exception, so writing the policy before trouble strikes is always advisable.
A policy usually starts with setting out who is responsible for such decisions. Naturally this usually rests with the trustees but is delegated to the Director. Having this stated in writing is already an important step forward. Next the person making the day to day decisions and any limits on their responsibility should be elaborated.
The next stage is to look at the various kinds of donation that cannot be accepted. These may include:
Where the acceptance of such funds would cost the organisation more than the intended donation.
Where the donation had conditions attached which were unduly onerous or costly.
Where the organisation has first to spend its own money and the assets of the organisation would therefore be under undue or inappropriate risk.
Where the donor required part of the donation to be given to a third party or returned at a future date e.g. money laundering. This is not the same as a loan made under a clear contract.
Then, potentially a much harder task, is to consider whether the donor may be unacceptable to the organisation. Companies are often subject to fierce debate at this point. My preference is to avoid a black list as companies are tightly interlocked with each other, suppliers and business customers leaving no company free from accusations of links with blacklisted companies and few companies free from in some way damaging the environment, or human rights or other interests. There are, however, ways of wording a policy which will cover most cases. For example, it may be decided that funds may not be sought:
Where the acceptance of such funds would lower the standing of the organisation in the eyes of its current supporters or members of the general public. This avoids association with donors who have in the past behaved incorrectly.
Specific issue organisations could add their own limitations. For example, a human rights organisation could add that they will not accept or solicit donations from:
Any organisation that engages in arms manufacture where those arms have or could be used for repressive purposes or from companies supplying such equipment.
It will be seen that there is great scope here for writing huge tracts on the limitations to be placed on soliciting or accepting funds. In practice setting out the spirit of the agreement is much more effective than trying to delineate the exact source of unacceptable funds.

Excess Funds

In a capital appeal it is necessary to be clear in writing about the use of excess funds and what happens to donations if you fall short of your goal and cannot purchase the intended item. It make good sense to do that in a case for support for major donors too; otherwise you may be obliged to return much needed funds. All that is required is that you state that additional funds or, if priorities change, existing donations may be used to further any of the stated objectives of the organisation. Naturally this should not be hidden away in small print, and you would want to talk it through carefully with your donors before re-allocating any funds.

Tax Effective Giving

The tax advantages of gifts should be set out succinctly, and it may be useful to have a Gift Aid form as a loose-leaf pull out. This is not the place to remind you of all the tax advantages of charitable donations; but your major donors may be unaware of how they can benefit, and it is worthwhile setting out the advantages to higher rate taxpayers. More importantly, the benefits allowed in relation to gifts of shares in the UK should be clearly stated, as they are complex but substantial.

Naming Opportunities

In a capital appeal for a new building there are many ways to reward donors. These may include; naming the whole building; naming a wing, floor or room; naming a piece of furniture (chairs are popular); having one’s name inscribed on the walls or in a book of thanks; or the recognition that comes from invitations to special events, receptions etc and the thank you letter or personal meeting.
The naming opportunities are often used by donors who have come into money unexpectedly though a legacy, and wish to recognise the generosity of their benefactor so that their name will live on.
Any such arrangements needs careful recording so no mistakes are made – not least in the spelling of the name. The actual dedication on the building should be of high quality and impressive. Not only will that enhance the ambiance of the building, it allows others to consider a similar gift (do leave enough space for new names) and can lead to new gifts from satisfied donors.


The case for support is not ‘everything I know about my organisation and its needs’ but a carefully selected, easy to understand, set of impressions and comments that are very well presented. A lot of pictures or photographs, quotations, very short case histories and clear signing of the contents so that someone can flip through and follow the logic of the case. An executive summary helps as does the use of bullet points and diagrams. It helps if the major donor programme has the branding of a name, logo, colour, fonts and strap-line.

Testing on Focus Groups

It is well worth while, if not essential, to test your case for support with some of your existing major donors. So far you have looked at your needs from a staff perspective and this could be radically different from your donors view, or it may just bed the way that need is expressed and illustrated. In discussion with donors they will often come out with a telling phrase that you can use to form a psychological link between your organisation’s needs and their own perspective. In the early days you may find it quite adequate to have an internally produced document that though well laid-out and thought through is not expensive. Using this with donors who are close to you helps them to feel like insiders being taken into your confidence. When, however, you or they need to use the case for support to talk through the need with others the situation may radically change. People who are not so close may be unimpressed by your shoddy brochure; and not take the project, with its large financial need, seriously. This is especially true of the boomers who may expect to see professionally produced material.
It is at this stage that you should acquire a copy-writer and a designer unless you are confident of creating an excellent product internally. One problem with using internal staff is that they are likely to be locked into writing from your organisation’s perspective not the major donors. An external agency may find it easier to empathise with them, as they share an outsider’s perspective; and to clarify the issue, as they do not have preconceptions about the organisation.

Using the Case for Support

Producing a case for support usually gives you a clear idea of how to describe the need to prospects. It is best used face to face on an individual basis with current donors to ask them to help financially, taking them through the need so it is clear they understand it before being asked to help. This is the process of asking.
New potential Major Donors may be brought in through a series of routes to understand and become close to the organisation before being asked at such a high level.
The case for support should not be posted out to contacts. If your major donors ask for a set to send out to people they know, you should demure and find better ways of reaching these people, such as asking them to visit the organisation or to attend a reception. The percentage return on posting case for supports out to people is as close to zero as it is possible to get. Do use the opportunity of requests like this to talk through your programme for reaching beyond the immediate donors. It also allows you to discuss what their contacts could possibly do that doesn’t involve giving money, and perhaps gives you time for some desk or agency research into their connections and their connections’ connections.
Major donors usually have impressive contacts, who can both open doors for you and bring to the organisation huge opportunities for non-financial benefit. This could be in the form of supplies of services or goods, or might be in the form of access to people who could help you create a high profile and extremely lucrative event. Being open to all the possibilities, and thinking creatively how the organisation could benefit from them is a hallmark of a great fundraiser.

Is a Case for Support essential

Most fundraising is not rocket science; but simply a series of fairly straightforward techniques, often built up out of a series of clear actions. Many of the steps outlined in this book can be omitted but that omission is likely to make your task harder and the outcome less certain. This is exactly the situation with a case for support. You can discuss your work in broad terms and ask for a large donation, perhaps giving a simple shopping list (e.g. £50,000 helps 100 people for a year, £100,000 helps 200 etc.); but you are substantially lowering your chances of success.
If your drive to abandon the idea of a case for support is driven by a desire to raise unallocated income to meet ongoing revenue needs, or an annual shortfall; then your organisation would be better to budget more accurately and cut expenditure to bring the organisation’s finances back into control. It is, however, also possible to set the major donor targets as part of the ongoing revenue needs. Your difficulty then is that the major donors will not have the feeling they are helping achieve a special target, for which a special effort is required, and special satisfaction obtained; but instead may feel they are letting themselves in for the obligation to keep funding the same area indefinitely.
Naturally, you will return to them in future, but it is this understanding of their likely thought processes and sensitivity to their psychological requirements which makes a truly effective major donor programme. This may need to be explained to staff who are driven by the fear of an end of year reduction of reserves or the desire to undertake more work than the organisation can afford; both of these actions are usually examples of damaging short-termism and a cool head is required to avoid lowering the potential income from a group of people who can benefit the organisation much more than most and probably more than can initially be imagined.