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Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Here's the weird thing about capital campaigns and their cases...
Tom Ahern

May, 2016

Your university, hospital or other charity spends all this time and money on a case for support.

Months of C-level and board work go into the development of that case—and sometimes years of strategic planning.

Committee review of the case hurts worse than lunchtime at a school of piranha. Yet ... still ... miraculously, eventually a case ends up in your Major Gift Officer's (MGO's) hand. A case everyone at the charity can nod "YES" to.

It wasn't quick. It wasn't easy. It sure wasn't cheap. After all, a fancy-pants brochure for a massive campaign can easily cost a hospital or university ten of thousands of dollars.

Yet, thank goodness, here we are: CASE DONE! Woo-hoo!!
 

Dear committee: You built a case that didn't help.
 
So what actually happens when that expensive printed case goes into the field?

When I encounter a Major Gifts Officer, I consider it a blessing. Because I write cases, I need to know from them: "How do you actually use the case for support during interviews? When do you bring it out for discussion?"

I was surprised (nay, shocked) by what I heard.

Some MGOs I spoke with didn't really use the fancy-pants printed case brochure, the one the charity had spent so much time and money and angst on ... except as a low-value and entirely dismissible leave-behind.

MGOs certainly didn't rely on it. And they didn't panic—they didn't really care—if they've forgotten the case back in their hotel room.

For the MGOs I interviewed, the fancy-pants case was simply NOT a vital part of making the sale.
 

See, your internal audience is NOT the right audience.
 
Why do these fancy-pants cases prove to be so beside the point?

Because they were laboriously built for the wrong audience.

They were built to please an internal audience: deans, board members, the hospital president, anyone in a position to approve.

Most of these fine, accomplished, and well-intentioned folks are (at best) content experts; they can correct a detail the case got wrong.

Few, if any, will be major donors.

In sum, they are NOT your target audience. Not even close. The fact that they are insiders compromised their judgment from the start because egos about the institution are involved.
        

The Case Writers have a different approach: Build the story around the donor.
 
We see the case as an MGO tool. And we want to build a better one.

The Case Writers aren't trying to please the client. Right there, that's one thing that makes us different.

We couldn't care less whether the dean of the law school or the head of neurosurgery likes the case we write. The internal audience is, by and large, irrelevant to reaching the campaign goal. It may happen that they do like the case, of course. But that's nice, not essential.

We write a special kind of case and annual report: the donor-centered kind. In those, the donor is the hero of the story ... not the charity, NGO or nonprofit institution.

I was lucky. I've been trained by two of the top case writers in the world. And I learned important lifelong lessons from both. (Thank you forever, JP and RA!)

But I also learned that their primary goal, because they had businesses to run and payrolls to meet, was to write a case that pleased the client.

Sometimes that resulted in an extraordinary document. Sometimes it resulted in a compromise document: physically beautiful but conceptually vacant, lacking donor-centricity or even a story, with little to say except "Aren't we beautiful and expensive?"

I.e., exactly the kind of predictable, uninspiring, "me too" case a Major Gifts Officer might safely forget to bring to a prospect interview.



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