6 common mistakes charities make
For a small charity, writing a case for support can feel like a daunting task. Where do you start? What’s the process? What do you include? And, faced with competing priorities is it even worth doing?
In short, yes. A case for support is an essential tool for effective fundraising. Based on our experience of helping hundreds of charities to develop a case for support, here are 6 pitfalls to avoid:
1) Overusing facts and figures
It’s tempting to provide lots of statistics and information. Whilst evidence-based material is important, a case for support must speak the donors’ hearts, as well as their minds; many charities fall into the trap of focussing too much on statistics, and fail to excite and engage the reader, compelling them into action. You need to balance facts and evidence-based information with a powerful narrative that elicits an emotional response.
2) Avoiding the story
Fundraising is all about storytelling. At the heart of your proposition should be a powerful story that shows the transformational change your work helps create – and the part their support can play in this. One of the most effective ways of doing this can be through video. One example of a powerful storytelling video is the girl effect which shows the power of education on girls in poor communities around the world. We recently watched this story with one of the children’s bowel and bladder charity, ERIC and it was a great way of helping our client reflect on their charity’s story in a fresh, more innovative way.
3) Being too introspective
Delivering services, managing staff and finances and strategic planning are all important. But your organisation is only a means to an end. For the donor – and for the people your charity supports – the organisation comes secondary to the cause: what ultimately matters to the outside world, is how you make the world a better place. Your case for support must be outward focussed, showing the difference your work makes to people, animals or the planet
A good tip I once learnt from a colleague at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, is to read through your narrative and count how many references there are to ‘we’ (the charity) versus ‘they’ (the beneficiaries) and ‘you’ (the donors). Having more references to beneficiaries and donors will keep the reader engaged and ensure that your impact and the donor’s role in helping you achieve this, is at the very heart of your proposition.
4) Poor writing techniques
The Plain English Campaign provides some brilliant information on writing clearly and effectively. There are also a wealth of resources out there about writing engaging digital copy. Web platforms such as WordPress will even assess the ‘readability’ of your online content, looking at areas such as sentence length, repetition and jargon. Blogs also abound on these topics and copywriting agencies can be a good starting point if you want to read up on this topic. One site we really like is Splash Copywriters.
5) Creating a generic template
Yes, all your fundraising applications, appeals, campaigns and communications should draw heavily on your case for support. The case is not however a generic document you can use verbatim in funding applications, appeal letters, online or in face-to-face fundraising. Your case for support needs to be tailored for each donor audience and context. Most grant-makers for example, will require far more detail and evidence-based information than you will find in a charity’s overarching case for support.
6) Lifeless and boring
How many emails, blogs, letters and articles have you started to read recently but have not read to the end? The truth is our attention spans are short. Waffle and repetition need therefore to be avoided at all costs. For written documents, a couple of sides of A4 should be enough and you will need to use bullets, images with captions, headings and subheadings to keep your reader reading. Good use of headings and subheadings are particularly important for this. More and more charities are also now using video format to present their case for support more visually and powerfully.
So, if you do not yet have a case for support or if your existing case needs an overhaul, this really is worth doing. In this brave new world, the need for a case for support that is compelling and clear, has never been more important or urgent.