Making the case: blueprint for success

Three questions come up frequently in early conversations about campaign communications: Do we need a case statement? Does print still matter? Can we just put it on the Web site?

In the age of digital, mobile, and social media, the skepticism around the need for a printed case statement is understandable–and misguided. When done well, the printed case is a vital component of the campaign communications toolbox.

The creation of the case statement forces refinement of the core messages of the campaign, and the way those messages are articulated. It is a tangible declaration of planning, vision, objectives, and commitment to the campaign effort – and to the institution itself.

The demise of print has been predicted since the advent of the desktop computer, and for some purposes, there is no question that online media is the most appropriate communications channel. But print endures. The simple fact that the printed piece is a physical object suggests a level of permanence and decision-making that can’t be matched by digital media. When done well, the case statement engages the donor with a tactile interaction and an emotional connection. It can be handed over in a one-on-one meeting – a meaningful gift. It creates an immersive experience and a feeling of ownership. It’s a keeper.

There is often a concern that the printed case statement is too permanent – that the landscape will change as the campaign develops, causing the case to become obsolete. To mitigate this concern, the case statement should be based on the enduring themes and objectives of the campaign – the big ideas that will transform the institution – rather than the finer detail of priorities and corresponding gift opportunities. These details are better covered in flexible, on-demand inserts that can sit in a pocket in the back of the case statement. With this approach the delivery can be customized to align with the interests of the prospective donor, or updated and refined based on feedback from the audience.

The process
Ideally, the key messages and priorities of the campaign grow out of a recent strategic plan, which is in turn based on the institutional mission. The case statement changes the inward facing voice of the strategic plan (“We must increase our endowed financial aid resources”) to an outward facing voice that aligns the values of the institution with those of the potential donor.

The process of building a case statement should begin with interviews of key stakeholders to confirm priorities, engage campaign leadership, and hear the perspective of those with a long-term view of the institution. A short list for interviews would include the president, campaign chair(s), engaged trustees, and committed alumni.

The next step is the development of a creative brief to establish the goals and approaches of campaign communications. The brief can summarize the interview findings and describe the opportunities, challenges, and overall communications strategy for the campaign. Key messages should be detailed, and potential names for the campaign should be developed and tested. The creative brief can describe the planned structure of the case statement and the ways in which design and copy will be treated.

With the creative brief as the guide, implementation begins. A detailed content outline, combined with a page-by-page plan for content distribution, forms the basis for development of a full copy draft and new photography. Sample pages and cover designs show how copy will be used, and demonstrate the look and feel of the case — its style, rhythm, and attitude.

One important point to keep in mind: whatever the length of the case statement, it should not be thought of as a container that is filled with content. To engage and move the reader, give your case statement some theater. A thematic opening, an element of surprise, and variety of layout treatments will keep the audience involved. Don’t be predictable.

The components
20 seconds – that’s how long we have to engage the reader and pull them deeper into the core messages of the case statement. Once engaged, we have another two minutes to prompt the thought process that leads to alignment with the mission, values, and objectives of the institution.

Many case statements lead with a letter from the president and/or the campaign chair. This placement may be appropriate for an annual report to shareholders, where the reader is already an investor. But the case statement needs to work faster, and at a more emotional level, right from the beginning.

A strong thematic opening, with big ideas and spectacular photography, is a better way to begin the book. The reader is drawn in, and the stage is set for a more detailed presentation of campaign objectives and impact.

The opening theme should be followed by a description of the context of the campaign – highlights from the school’s history, and a report of recent successes (increase in applications, higher achieving students, ranking, alumni achievement) – to confirm that the institution is strong, and moving in the right direction.

This story of strength should be followed by an explanation of the challenges that the school faces (small endowment, financial aid pressures, aging infrastructure, competition for faculty) and the opportunities that can be realized with the help of a successful campaign.

The case statement usually coincides with the start of public phase of the campaign, but it should be clear to the reader that much progress has already been made during the leadership or nucleus phase. A campaign timeline and descriptions of impact resulting from leadership gifts can reinforce the perception of an effort and a cause that is destined to be a winner.

The next section of the case statement should provide detail on the financial objectives of the campaign, and bring the priorities to life. Stories, voices, and images of students and alumni can make a powerful connection, and demonstrate the many ways that a successful campaign will leverage the ability of the school to change lives for the better – a narrative of ever-expanding impact. Keep the stories short, use the first-person voice, and tie it all back to the institutional mission.

The financial objectives of a comprehensive campaign should also explain the importance of the annual fund, and send two key messages – that gifts of every size are important, and that the long-term health of the institution depends on yearly participation.

Make sure to include detail on campaign leadership. An organizational chart showing chair, co-chairs, and executive committee lends credibility to the campaign, and encourages others to support the effort.

Last, but definitely not least — put the message from the president (or chair or dean) at the back of the book, where it can serve as the call to action. Make it short and to the point: our values align, our impact is expanding, and together we can do great things.

In closing
The carefully constructed case statement is a foundational piece of campaign communications. It creates alignment between the donor and the institution. Its passion, language, logic, and imagery can be leveraged again and again over the life of the campaign. It’s an analog must-have in a digital world.