by Jeff Small
Helping organizations develop case statements is one of my favorite things to do here at JGA. In this role, I get to go out to organizations – generally at a point of great anticipation as they approach a critical project or campaign – and talk to staff and volunteers about what is going on and why donors should want to get involved.
In general, organizations we work with are good at knowing at least some of their key selling points and making sound arguments about why they deserve support. Organizations that write their own materials or have staff and volunteers contribute directly to the creation of solicitation materials benefit in a few key ways:
- There is no substitute for the enthusiasm generated by connection to the cause and expressed by those close to it.
- A high comfort level with the language and culture of their donors allows organizations to speak more clearly to them than an outsider could.
- A deep knowledge of an organization means insiders generally paint an accurate picture of what is happening.
Frequently though these advantages can get bogged down in connected ways.
- Enthusiasm for an entire organization can often handicap an insider. Just as it might be difficult for a parent to succinctly describe what is great about their children, staff and volunteers can sometimes suffer from an almost unconditional love of their organization. An outside perspective can help organizations understand what truly differentiates them from other worthy organizations and what might resonate more clearly with donors.
- Speaking in the language of an organization and accurately describing details can quickly turn into an incomprehensible mess of jargon and minutiae, especially in technical fields and projects.
Not everyone has an outside writer/consultant on call at every moment. If you aren’t at a point where it is necessary or efficient to test your storytelling through professional outside help, you can still get an outsider’s perspective to strengthen your communications.
- Ask your newest employees, volunteers, and donors what has impressed them most. What is great about this place? They are less likely to be overwhelmed by detailed knowledge of everything your organization does and can help remind you of the high points of what you are accomplishing.
- From time to time, ask for feedback from spouses and friends of staff and volunteers about the materials you are using. Those most connected may breeze through jargon and fill in the blanks with their own knowledge where the writer hasn’t connected the dots. People a little less connected – but still likely interested in a cause – can point out messages that don’t make sense or just fall flat.
Combining outside objectivity with insider knowledge and enthusiasm provides a strong jumping off point for telling an organization’s story effectively.