Donovan's Donor Diary

If you are trying to raise money for your favorite charity/cause, Donovan's Donor Diary provides you with facts, tips and best practices on how to raise millions of dollars for people, pets and the planet.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Case Statement -- Back Then and Today

Back Then

Looking back to 1986 when Donovan Management, Inc., (DMI) started assisting nonprofits achieve greater success, the number of Florida nonprofit organizations was just starting to grow. Along with that growth came increased competition for the philanthropic dollar. That led to nonprofits scrambling to differentiate themselves from like organizations. Differentiation was particularly important in crafting a case statement.

I actually got my first dose of case statement differentiation before I started DMI. You could call it -- a case study in case development. It was in the early 80’s when I was Executive Director of the University of Central Florida Foundation (UCF). Back then, public universities were just starting their fund raising programs. UCF was one of the State’s newest universities. As such, its alumni were in their late 20s to 30s, starting families or businesses with little left to contribute to their alma mater. In addition, most UCF alumni wondered why a public university needed their private gifts.

The challenge got more difficult when we tried to make the case for giving to the UCF Foundation from non-alumni individuals, business, industry and associations -- that is, the Central Florida community itself. The four main objections were:

1. Why does a publicly supported university need private/philanthropic support?

2. If UCF needs more money, the legislature should provide it.

3. As a business we pay State taxes which in turn end up in UCF’s budget.

4. For UCF to ask the community to give would hurt Rollins College a private school which isn’t supported by the State.

The breakthrough for our case came when we explained to our target constituency the difference between a State supported university and a State assisted one. The difference was that less than 50% of UCF’s budget, at that time, was provided by State funds. The balance came from many other sources such as tuition, fees, vending machine income, earned income, and philanthropy.

However, the philanthropy piece was negligible compared to the UCF’s multi-million dollar budget. Thus, one would wonder how could even a small percentage of philanthropic support have a major impact on such a large budget? We called that small amount The Margin of Excellence since philanthropic gifts allowed the university to do more than was possible with State funds alone.

Our rationale was that State funds enabled UCF to be a good university; however, philanthropic support (private gifts and grants) augmenting State dollars could make the UCF a great university. Why? Because the philanthropic dollars could be used in ways State funds could not. Like, creating an endowed professorship where earnings could be used to augment a State salary line thereby giving UCF an advantage over another university trying to recruit the same distinguished professor.

Our case resulted in a five part series of advertisements in the Orlando Sentinel. Each quarter page ad was underwritten by a donor. The ads were reprinted and sent to prospective donors as well. The response to the ads was terrific. We got calls from community leaders saying, “Now I get it.”


Keep in mind that case statements need to go beyond the criteria noted here. Your case must appeal to a new generation of mega-donors, Baby Boomers who have inherited millions or made millions in selling their business.

Unlike their parents who gave with little thought of recognition, today’s mega-donors want something different. They want to be as successful in giving their money away as in making it. In short, they want to be seen by their peers as wise/successful philanthropists.

For example, compare these two fictitious case statement tag lines for a major research university:

University A -- Exceeding Expectations and Excellence in Research

University B -- Successful Philanthropists Drive our Research

The tag line of University A is all about the institution while the University B tag line is clearly focused on the donor.

Today if you want to tap into the growing number of Baby Boomers and mega-donors don’t make your case about YOU.

Make it about THEM, because without THEM you can’t exceed expectations or drive research.

If you would like our assistance in researching and preparing a compelling case for giving to your organization, please contact us at: or call us at: 407-321-0024. We have an excellent team of writers.

Your comments on this or other Blog postings are most welcome.


  • At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Mr. Donovan, I went to a state support school. Your analysis is right on. Too bad your insights weren't available to our staff 20 years old. We're still 10 years behind where we should be.

    It's a high hurdle for folks to understand the need for private support of public entities, you were light years ahead of others in recognizing how to differeniate.

  • At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bravo to you for your insight so many years ago! As a marketing professional I appreciate it when other professionals embrace that "it is ALWAYS about your target audience(s) and never about yourself."

    "The Margin of Excellence" -- what a great line and effective way to position your effort.

    I look forward to your next posting. -- JIA

  • At 8:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your points are poignant and consistent with our experience. Thanks for sharing...... Dave

  • At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just had the moment to read your piece today – and it’s extraordinary.


  • At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good point. How do you get staff and volunteers to understand this? BCR

  • At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    First time. I read the copy. I used to be the communication manager for a 40M UW campaign. How true your points are! Do all readers know this?



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