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Seven Deadly Sins of Case Statements

Effective case statements consist of compelling prose that, while appealing to the head and the heart of a prospective donor, lays out the most compelling reasons for supporting a nonprofit institution.  The process of writing a case statement, ideally, gets everyone on the same page as to where the nonprofit is now, where it wants to go, why getting there is important, and how supporters can help.

Case statements can run off the tracks, however, when development officers perpetrate one or more deadly sins.  Here’s how to commit the seven deadly sins that can derail both the document and the process.

Narcissism.  Write only about your institution.  Don’t make connections as to how your organization or its people can help solve any local, national, or world problems.  You exist as an island to yourself.

Ignorance.  Pay no attention to the needs of prospective donors or how they can make an impact by making a gift to your organization.  Do not speak directly to donors in your text or acknowledge that by giving to you they could address larger issues.

Pollyannaism.  Make everything at your institution sound perfectly fine.  There is nothing you could do better with more resources.  You face no real challenges and you have no pressing needs.  Admitting any shortcomings would indicate weakness.  There is no urgency to your case.

Vagueness.  Don’t commit yourself to anything too precise—especially something that could be measured.  Strive for “excellence” or “take things to the next level.”  Keep your college “at the forefront of higher education.”

Egalitarianism.  Let all manner of people, especially those who have no development responsibilities, weigh in on text of your case statement.  Let each person make any changes he or she wants, and give every comment equal value.  Strive to please everyone.

Jargonitis.  Lard your text with insider language from your institution’s field or industry.  If you are in healthcare, talk about patient acuity.  In higher education, talk about admissions yield.  Assume that everyone who reads your case statement knows as much about your industry as you do.

Stasis.  Once your case statement is complete, never change it.  No matter what happens over the years your campaign, this document should remain the same.  Go ahead and carve it in stone.

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Have you witnessed any of these development debaucheries?  Has your institution committed any of these peccadillos with your prose or your case statement process?  Write us a post and share what you saw and – more importantly – how you avoided these pitfalls.  Then go and sin no more.

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About the author

Jeff Bradley

Consulting Vice President

Jeff Bradley, Vice President, Advancement Communications, brings to advancement writing a deep knowledge of the higher education community, which comes from both teaching and fundraising, combined with a journalist’s skill in conducting research. He seeks to capture the voice of an institution and use it to inspire and motivate people…