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How do you know if your institution and your team is ready to be more ambitious philanthropically?

by Caroline Usher | Oct 9, 2023 | Fundraising

This does not have to mean are you considering whether to launch a major fundraising campaign – it could mean are you ambitious to recruit volunteer boards or are you ambitious to invest in new roles to reach higher targets for engagement and income?  Regardless of where they are on this advancement journey, a fundraising leader has to take a dispassionate view on the fundraising effectiveness of their institution.

The methodology

Measuring progress against previous goals is a sensible way to build internal confidence but when critical friends say that a fundraiser is only as good as their last gift then a longer term and rigorous set of criteria is required.   Halpin has established methodology around five key factors of fundraising effectiveness:

  • Case for support
  • Leadership
  • Prospects
  • Fundraising Plan
  • Resources

And the first test for fundraising effectiveness is does your institution have a compelling institutional Case for Support that is on brand and resonates with your target audience?

Building a Case for Support

A Case for Support can mean many things. At its most basic it answers the questions; who are we? what are we trying to do? and why should you care? But bearing in mind the adage that ‘If it isn’t written down then it didn’t happen’ it must be recorded – usually as a written document – and ideally incorporating input from throughout the institution.  The process of creating and agreeing a Case for Support can say a lot about its organisational culture, its level of ambition and philanthropic health.

If an institution sees its case for support as a piece of collateral which, like a prospectus, can be outsourced in its entirety they are missing the opportunity for the Case for Support to say something distinctive. Admittedly, asking a leadership team to summarise the vision, impact and ambition succinctly can silence the room and yet their input and instincts are fundamental to shaping something which is authentic. So, an institution needs to be open to structured, facilitated self-reflection and consultation focussed on agreeing its case for support. The institution must be ready to believe the fundraising leader when they end the internal debate and say that the case for support represents the institution’s final word and can be tested with and communicated to key external constituencies.

A compelling case for support works best as a call to action which inspires greater engagement and makes potential supporters and volunteers commit now and give more is at the core of effective fundraising. But if it tells a story that is true to and embraced by the institution, then perhaps there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ case for support. So, does this mean that with sufficient internal consultation and a high energy presentation, fundraising leaders can tick the case for support box and move on to the other key factors for fundraising effectiveness?

I would argue that the reason that a compelling case for support is a critical effectiveness factor which can never be taken for granted because as well as speaking with the genuine voice of your institution it must have staying power and be as future proof as you can make it. A case for support as your institutional calling card has to be sufficiently resilient to meet a number of challenges: does it work in translation and across several formats? can it thrive on social media? Or withstand a reputational crisis? Does it remain relevant after a leadership turnover? A case for support that answers why an institution matters in a visionary but credible way can even help to navigate of these challenges provided it is intelligently deployed.

Underpinning your work

Fundraising leaders who have evolved a Case for Support that they believe can meet the challenges and underpin their work will also find ways to enhance its effectiveness:

  • Use it or lose it. The Case for Support should be part of the language of the institutional brand and therefore has to be incorporated in external facing communications – not just proposals.
  • The Case should be an engagement tool used by many representatives of the institution to provoke debate.  So, even if it is challenged by a supporter, embracing the conversation can move relationships forward.
  • Many effective teams have developed shared core values that underpin approaches to recruitment and training. The case for support should be part of the orientation of staff and volunteers to inspire and inform their efforts.
  • If you build. Using different media testimonials and case studies to tell stories to underpin the case for support enables it to be refreshed and endorsed.

So, I’d argue that a Case for Support is the first criterion for your evaluation of fundraising effectiveness. But there are four other factors to consider…

Halpin is the home of experts in Higher Education and works across Strategy, Fundraising, Governance, and People and Culture. If you would like to learn more about how we can support you, get in touch.