Making the Case: What’s the Problem?

by: Leila Fitzpatrick

December 10, 2016

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

-Albert Einstein

A compelling case statement tells your organization’s story and inspires action – ideally, in the form of donations. And the Problem Statement is the crux of a strong case for support. Ultimately, the better you illustrate the problem, the stronger the ask.

Whether you’re fighting world hunger or championing a burgeoning theatre company, your case statement is the basis for effective communication. To build a successful case, you must tap into the multitude of reasons your audience may connect with your organization. You must capture their attention and pull their heartstrings. You must demonstrate urgency and inspire confidence. And most important, you must align a critical problem with a powerful solution.

Lay the Groundwork. Like any enticing story, your case needs context. You grapple with the complex challenges impeding your cause every day. But prospective donors and grantmakers (hopefully) reading the case don’t necessarily see the big picture. So you need to articulate the problem your organization exists to address. Explain the challenge, define the scope of the issue, identify who the problem impacts, and present the need that begs for a solution. This is your chance to establish the rationale for your organization. Explain, in laymen’s terms, why your organization exists. Who faces this problem? Where does this problem exist? What impact does the problem have on the community? Describe the issue you’re addressing in a way that will, ultimately, garner the resources you need to implement the solution.

Simplify. Regardless of the issue’s complexity, your description of the problem must be simple. Of course there isn’t just one problem. (That would be too easy.) Your work combats a tangled web of issues, layered with intersecting populations and various external factors. But for the sake of the Problem Statement, keep it simple. This isn’t the time for nonprofit martyrdom or nitty gritty details. This is about conveying a message. If absolutely necessary, break down the problem into parts. But explain the problem in a way that clearly and concisely articulates the need so that insiders and outsiders can get it – and ideally, share it with others.

Back it Up. Once you’ve zeroed in on the essential problem, bring in back up. Stating a simple problem isn’t enough to open wallets. Anchor your statement with hard facts. Use evidence; cite stats; incorporate quotes. Your audience doesn’t need to grasp the complexities or the magnitude of the problem, but they need to feel confident that you do. Real data will help define the importance of your cause.

Most important, don’t minimize the Problem Statement’s role in making your case. The last question you want anyone to ask at the end of your pitch is, “So what?” A lean, powerful Problem Statement will position you to solve the problem – and ultimately, make the case that results in dollars.