Icebergs, the Case and Case Statement: Why Fraternal Foundations Need to Understand How They all Interact

Part 2 in a series about the Fraternal Case Statement

Fraternity and sorority foundations trying to raise money from their alumni/ae and friends compete against a variety of worthwhile causes all vying for these same potential donors. To entice, inspire and motivate Greek alumni to contribute, Greek organizations must provide these alumni with a compelling reason to give. Greek organizations must stand out from the crowd. Your fraternity or sorority must demonstrate why it deserves support over others.

This compelling reason – this demonstration – is done through a carefully and artfully developed case statement.

However, before developing a case statement, you must first spend time developing and fully articulating your organization’s case.

When the case is weak or incomplete, fundraising suffers. Unfortunately, many fraternal foundations give only modest attention to their case. I elaborated on this point in Part 1 of this series about the fraternal case statement, titled Where Fraternal Foundations Go Wrong Trying to Write a Fundraising Case.

In this article, I’ll explore and attempt to clarify the differences between the case and a case statement.

Problem #1: An Unbalanced Focus on Aesthetics

Many people, when they hear the term, “case” or “case statement”, likely think about the glossy campaign brochure or gift club literature someone spent hours developing with pride.

Fraternal organizations often spend an absurd amount of time focusing on their case statement. They hire expert designers and stress over fonts and paper quality. There are many companies vying for the business to re-brand their organization or to produce a new logo or brochure. Most of them do great work, but aesthetics are not enough.

There’s no question that a fundraising appeal or brochure should look good. However, if you focus on the attractiveness of a piece without the substance and strategy behind it, fundraising results will suffer.

Problem #2: Asking Without Planning

In addition to focusing on the superficial qualities of a case statement, fraternities and sororities often jump right to asking for money. For example, many go down the following paths and pursue the following lines of thinking:

We have a planned giving society. We have [insert number here] alumni who are over age 65 and good candidates to make a planned gift. Let’s send them a letter and our new planned giving brochure and ask them to join [insert the name of your planned giving club here].

Another scenario that tends to occur:

We always send our annual fund letter in September. It’s already August, and we’ve not yet written the letter. We need to get the letter out right away, so [insert staff member] needs to write the letter and have it to the chairperson by Friday for approval.

Fraternities and sororities often immediately start writing their case statement without completing their case. They jump right to the asking part of fundraising without taking the time to complete the planning part of fundraising.

The Iceberg Principle

Understanding the difference between a case and a case statement is important. Developing both documents is also important.

Think about an iceberg. How much of an iceberg is usually above water? About 10%. There is another 90% below water supporting the 10% you see.

That’s how you should think about your case and case statement. The part you can see is your case statement. It is just a small portion of the overall case. Everything else – the mass of material supporting your case statement – feeding your case statement – the other 90% – that is your case.

The Case vs. Case Statement

A case statement is only one component of a much larger case. A case statement takes key pieces from the case and applies them to a particular situation.

Director of The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lily Family School of Philanthropy, Dr. Timothy L. Seiler succinctly defined and explained the difference between a case and a case statement in his book Developing Your Case for Support when he wrote:

“A case is the general argument why a charitable organization deserves gift support. The case is bigger than the organization and relates generally to a cause. A cause is a set of interests served with dedication; it is a community need that the nonprofit organization is working to meet …[A] case can be seen as an encyclopedic accumulation of information about the organization, its cause, and how it serves its cause. (emphasis added, Seiler, 2001, p. 3)

You might liken the relationship between the case and the case statement to the relationship between research gathered for a report and the final report. In compiling information, you include as much material as you can find in support of your topic. In preparing and presenting your report, however, you select only the information that most effectively makes the point you want to make to your chosen audience. You don’t use every piece of information. You might then return to your original compilation and select somewhat different information for a different report to a different audience… A case statement selects and articulates key points from the overall case. (emphasis added, Seiler, 2001, p. 4)”

More often than not, fraternities, sororities and Greek 501(c)(3) foundations do not develop a complete case. They skip or forget about important elements. They gloss over unflattering information. They focus on the visible 10% while ignoring much, if not all, of the supporting 90%.

A well-articulated case focuses all of an organization’s fundraising efforts around a common set of goals. From that point, the case can be disseminated into one or more compelling case statements that provide a consistent message across all of your cultivation and solicitation channels. The case focuses fundraising. It should inspire donors.

Before you can develop a well-articulated case statement, you must develop your case. Before you can develop your case, you must answer some tough questions and begin assembling your case resource file.

A future article in this blog series will explain the process you and other fundraising professionals should go through to compile your complete case for support. Only when you have completely developed and assembled a complete case can you write an exceptional case statement.

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