We can almost always diagnose a problem with a case for support (or funding story) by using the Altitude Framework. And, what’s interesting is that organizations tend to need help at a single level of messaging versus all or multiple levels.
We can organize messaging challenges into these three levels of clarity:
- At 30,000′ – Toward what end? (This is a WHY question)
- At 14,000′ – Where is the money going?
- At 3′ – What’s the math?
Note: There are some supplemental questions based on circumstance and sector. For example, a social enterprise needs to be able to talk clearly about the business model (explicitly) but, I would argue that topic is covered (conceptually) under ‘knowing the math.’
Here is how we often see the lack of message clarity playing out:
At 30,000′ – Toward what end?
Organizations that struggle at 30,000’ tend to be doing sector-changing work (and often in a crowded space). They focus too much on how they’re different, or the nuances of their model, instead of being really clear about the simple, visceral reasons WHY someone should care: “This is the problem we’re solving!” Or, “This is how we want to change the world!”
Tell-tale sign: They often lead their narrative with a theory of change.
- Health (care) Transformation.
- Education (Transformation).
- Community Development.
At 14,000′ – Where is the money going? (Or, what are the funding priorities?)
Organizations that struggle at the 14,000’ level tend to operate on an (established) funding model other than philanthropy. They’re not good at talking about how they’ll use funds to do X, Y, or Z. Culturally, they might start a fundraising campaign simply to augment a different business model.
Tell-tale sign: An organization with a multi-million-dollar operating budget wants to start a campaign for unrestricted funds.
- Research Institutions.
- Global RFP-Grant-Based NGOs.
- Large earned-income organizations.
At 3′ – What’s the (Case for Support) Math?
Organizations that struggle with the math tend to be those with built-in funding prospects. A great example here is a school. Alumni and parents will no doubt support the school, but the the questions then become about how all the math works out. Will it increase tuition? Will it be sustainable? What is the cost? How will this funding project impact the future business model (tuition/admission)?
Tell-tale sign: A mentality of “If we build it, they will fund.”
To be clear: every organization needs to address these three case questions. I am just outlining some general trends and questions that might be helpful in uncovering your challenge.