Jessie Sitnick, MMSt., MA
Senior Officer, Partnership & Development Communications, WWF
Today I finished a major case for support.
Okay, let me qualify that. Today I finished the last round of edits on the fourth version of the “final draft” of a major case for support. Wait, let me rephrase. Today I finished what I think is probably the last round of edits –at least for the next six months…oy.
Let’s face it. Cases for support are never really done. Maybe they shouldn’t be. They are, in a lot of ways, as organic as your organization. They mature, they morph, they spin off, they shift – in all the same ways that your programs and priorities do as they evolve to meet your mission.
But, also like your organization, they have milestones. Moments (it can feel that brief) when your case has finally elucidated the kernel of truth that everyone agrees to—what you’re doing, why it matters, how it will change things, what success looks like, how you’ll get there, how you’ll know you’ve arrived. Actually, what I’ve just described are two accomplishments, which ideally happen together: (1) you’ve discovered and are able to articulate the answers to all of the questions written above and (2) everyone agrees with those answers.
This pokes at the squishy heart of what I think cases are all about. More than anything else, they are a process. A process which is, perhaps, not all that different from group therapy.
Yes, you need a good case to raise money. Because being able to answer all those hard, juicy questions is essential to inspiring donors to support your work and even more critical to telling them what their support has accomplished. But, if your case is a bridge between your organization and your donors–a metaphor I like to use—you have to remember, as my co-presenter Trevor Zimmer so aptly pointed out to me, you can’t build a bridge to nowhere. In other words, creating your case is as much about catalyzing internal alignment—having those “come to the mountain” conversations—as it is figuring out how to communicate externally.
My “case breakthrough” moments over the past year did not happen in the isolation of my cubicle or in the quiet space of my mind. They came as the result of long, impassioned, and loud conversations. They were formed through whiteboard sessions where people furiously drew arrows and boxes and underlined random words vehemently. They happened when I proudly presented my first fantastic draft of the case that I finally (sort of) finished today and was told—clearly, certainly—that I had gotten it wrong, wrong, wrong.
What I witnessed, in these moments, wasn’t just my own enlightenment. It wasn’t just the “dense fundraiser” finally getting it. It was all of us –scientists, policy-wonks, communications specialists, senior leaders and, yes, donor managers—all “getting it” together at the same time.
Look, I know everyone wants a nice, tidy, finished case. We need them for our one-pagers, our two-pagers, our proposals, our pitches, our impact reports. But—in the tradition of fortune cookie wisdom—sometimes the journey is as valuable, and potentially even more important than the destination. In the case of cases, I think the cookie speaks the truth.
Jessie Sitnick is Senior Officer, Partnership & Development Communications at WWF. She will be presenting “They Blinded Me with Science: How to Turn Complicated Programs into Compelling Cases” at AFP Congress 2011.