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Design Your Program - Create Your Case

The Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) defines the case as "the reasons why an organization both needs and merits philanthropic support, usually by outlining the organization's programs, current needs, and plans." A case statement, "a presentation that sets forth a case." The first is a concept, while the second is a physical document.

We want to draw a further distinction. Case materials are resources your station collects that document its history or work in the community. A case expression is any presentation you make to a particular audience or for a specific purpose.

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

Importance of the Case

"Why do we need a case?" the leader of one organization asked. "Every member of the staff knows our story." The truth is that everyone within an organization knows his or her version of the story, but each may be quite different from others.

If a conductor were to walk onstage, hum a tune, and ask the ensemble to repeat it, the result would be a cacophony, no matter how hard the musicians tried. Just as sheet music makes certain that everyone in the orchestra plays the same tune, the case for support guides your staff and volunteers in communicating a cohesive story to the public.

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Elements of the Case

The three most critical elements of the station's case are its mission, vision, and values.

  • Mission is why you exist. It is not what you do, but the greater purpose that the organization serves. It concerns what the organization is today.
  • Vision is what an organization can become in the future and, equally important, how the organization will affect its community when it succeeds in realizing that vision.
  • Values are the beliefs and practices that guide the organization's work in the community.

Beyond that are a host of important background Case Elements Checklist (PDF, 19KB) from which case materials will be drawn. These range from elements of your strategic plan and program services, to audience statistics and the IRS letter of determination. Bringing these materials together in one place under the supervision of one individual makes certain that all the necessary tools are in place when you prepare a case expression, from a brochure to a written proposal.

Kay Sprinkel Grace has prepared a Case Materials Checklist (PDF, 75KB) to help you organize the assembling of case material. This material should be updated annually. To insure that this happens, a station might want to assign the task of coordinating the update to whoever manages the station's public file.

Idaho Public Television's Case Materials (PDF, 1.5MB) provide an excellent example of how these elements can be pulled together. Note on page 38 the network's frank treatment of its public struggles with controversial programming and on page 98, the final page, its list of investment opportunities, which the network is constantly updating.

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Three Important Case Ideas

One additional step will enhance the case, increase the speed with which you create case expressions, and improve their consistency. It is to focus on three important case ideas. Your station may be good at a number of things, but it is likely that 80% of your investment opportunities will be associated with a relative handful of activities. Prepare one-page descriptions of those activities, emphasizing their benefits to your community. A few areas to consider are:

  • Local productions
  • Education activities
  • Outreach and community engagement
  • News and public affairs coverage
  • Parnterships with other community organizations

The Case Builder (PDF file, 67KB) provides generic written examples to get you started. In addition, be certain to draw from currently available system research and papers like these:

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Tell your Story through your Audience

Public broadcasting stations have found a very effective case building tool through their own listeners and viewers. CPB's My Source site provides examples (Website) of the most effective stories, as well and tips (PDF, 192KB) for recruiting your own ambassadors.

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Case Expressions

Case expressions are any presentation in which your stations makes its case. Case expressions are drawn from the station's case, but tailored to the needs and interests of specific audiences. Examples of case expressions include a formal written proposal, a brochure, or a presentation, but it includes anything the station uses to tell its story to donors, including direct mail pieces, news releases, on-air spots, program guide articles, etc.

Kay Sprinkel Grace has suggested several general rules about case expressions:

  • Focus on results and impact, not on the station's needs
  • Emphasize the opportunity to invest, not an obligation to give
  • Convey the idea that a gift to you is really a gift through you to your community
  • Promote social investment and values-based return, not premiums provided in exchange for a gift

Further, she says, when urgency is involved, emphasize the urgency to deliver a service, not the urgency of the need. Never apologize for asking. Build consistency in all your messaging; that is one of the main points of assembling case materials. Aim your materials at building investments rather than making sales.

Timothy Seiler (see Major Giving Bibliography, PDF, 28KB) points out that the organization's history "is more relevant and interesting to its staff and other personnel than to donors and prospective donors." Too many case expressions begin with a recitation of the organization's history. But when stations focus on the human elements, such as the early involvement of volunteers in establishing it and nurturing it during its formative years, the station can humanize its history and draw important links to the present.

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Case Expression Examples

There are many examples of well-crafted case expressions. Here's a sampling:

  • WXXI used the PBS "Be More" campaign as the basis for this wire-bound booklet that positions its television and radio services in the context of Rochester's rich history and its other recognized institutions. The publication is designed to accommodate the needs of major giving, planned giving, and membership.
    WXXI "Be More" Brochure (PDF, 1.1MB)
  • New Hampshire Public Television uses an attractive full-color tri-fold to highlight its Granite Society. The cover highlights the three cornerstones of its mission: engaging minds, connecting communities, and celebrating New Hampshire. Most of the copy tells NHPTV's story through people stories and testimonials.
    New Hampshire PTV Granite Society (PDF, 394KB)
  • At KLRU, former CEO Mary Beth Rogers explained to prospects not why her station needed to convert to digital broadcasting, but what that conversion would mean to citizens of Austin.
    KLRU Case Expression (PDF, 635KB)
  • The annual fund brochure for the Seattle Symphony is an important case expression that outlines the symphony's service to the community, the benefits of contributing, and outlines specifically what donors help the symphony achieve through their gifts.
    Seattle Symphony Annual Fund Brochure (PDF, 7.4MB)
  • In this creative presentation, KUED simply expresses its mission statement, yet provides additional information which outlines its vision and suggests its values.
    KUED Mission Statement (PDF, 735KB)
  • Wisconsin Public Television uses a variety of font sizes to emphasize elements of its mission, vision, and values in this case expression, its Director's Circle brochure.
    Wisconsin Public Television Director's Circle Brochure (PDF, 3.5MB)
  • Vermont Public Television produced this 8-page leave-behind document that contains all the necessary information about its service. Because it is printed as needed, it can be changed at will, giving it more flexibility than a typical printed brochure.
    Vermont Public Television Leave-Behind (PDF, 1.1MB)

Here are ten expressions focused on mission, vision and values:

To keep the station's case before the boards of KCTS and its donors, its President and CEO created a handy Case Reference Card (PDF, 81KB) summarizing its mission, vision, values, case for support, strategic plan, and key facts. The reference card, printed on both sides, is only slightly larger than a standard playing card.

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Facts about Public Broadcasting (Website)
Regularly updated on CPB's My Source site
Case Elements Checklist (PDF, 19KB)
Case Materials Checklist (PDF, 75KB)
Case Builder (PDF, 67KB)

Meeche White,
Executive Director,
National Ability Center