Case for Support, Donor Focused Fundraising, Needs Statements

Telling Your Story: Lessons from Aristotle

Sometimes it seems like there is nothing new under the sun. Over 2300 years ago, the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, proposed that a persuasive – or rhetorical – appeal contained three elements: logospathos, and ethos. These ideas still prevail, and if you analyze any great story or compelling essay, or unforgettable advertisement, you’ll find these same elements.

Everyone knows that in fundraising and grant development, you need a good story. So when you develop you Case for Support or you Need Statement, be sure that you use logospathos and ethos to make your case.

Greek for “word”, logos are facts, data, and verifiable information. They appeal to a reasoned conclusion of needs in your fundraising story: How many students will benefit from this scholarship? How many students will participate in the apprenticeship? How will the unemployment rate be reduced by the new program? Be sure to cite the sources of your data and be sure those sources are credible in themselves. (See how Central Carolina Community College Foundation uses facts in its Case for expansion of the Veterinary Technology Program.)

The root of words like “empathy” and “sympathy,” pathos reflect the emotional impact your story bears upon the listener or reader. It is the human element that grabs the heart; it zooms into the facts until they are crystallized in the real story of a real person. What happened when Angel, single mother of three, graduated from the Nursing Program? Why are dad, son and daughter all enrolled at your community college at the same time? Why does that student walk 4 miles to and from the college every day? (Here’s a good example using video from Grand Rapids Community College Foundation’s website.)

What keeps logos from being dull and pathos from becoming treacly? Ethos – your credibility. These statements will establish why your college is THE community organization that can solve the stated problem. Longevity, past successes, quality of faculty, speed of programmatic development and delivery – these are all ways that express your credibility. Another way of thinking about ethos: what right do you have to claim you can solve the stated problem? Most of the time (and most effectively), your credibility is woven into your logos and pathos, not necessarily a separate statement. However you establish your ethos, though, be sure it’s present in your Need Statement or Case for Support (check out Bucks County Community College’s Case for Support. Click on the links to the PDFs). Without it, you are unconnected to the data (logos) and/or manipulative (pathos).

Test your Case for all the Elements
When I taught freshman English at Cecil College, I often used “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help students recognize logos, pathos, and ethos in persuasive argument. I asked them to highlight facts and data in blue, phrases that elicited an emotional response in pink, and phrases or statements that established Dr. King’s credibility in yellow. (Often yellow underlined blue and pink highlights.) When you do this exercise with your Case or Need Statement, look for balance, rhythms, crescendos, and coda (I’m trying to keep to musical terms here – in fact, Aristotle’s rhetoric was designed for oration!)

Be Bold. Be Persistent
Remember, writing is hard work. Don’t take my word for it:

“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” — Louis Brandeis

“I don’t write; I rewrite”. – Mark Twain


“Language is an improbably powerful thing. It’s just words, after all, in a world full of noise. But certain combinations of words can move mountains and change lives.” – Ron Suskind

Your mission is critical – not just to your community as a whole, but to each individual you touch. You are worthy of philanthropic support. Move YOUR mountain.

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