All The Places You’ll Go (Once You Get Out of the Gate)

Posted by Ann-Laura Parks, Oct 10, 2014 1 comment

Ann-Laura Parks Ann-Laura Parks

Ever come back from a conference inspired, energized, and ready to unleash your brilliant ideas on your colleagues? You’re cruising along on a creative high until you hear, “That’s a good idea BUT…” followed by the reasons why it can’t be done.

When yours truly was a young worker bee, I heard some reasons that made head/desk contact a regular occurrence:

“We don’t need a blog. Nobody reads those. They are just vanity projects for people with big egos.” - executive director of a large nonprofit

“Why on earth would we ever want to post anything on YouTube?” - marketing director at a federal agency

More likely, though, you’ll hear something like, “I’d love to but we just can’t spare the money/time/staff for that.”

If you want to avoid the quick, early death of your idea, getting the go ahead from the authorizers in your organization will be your first challenge.

When The Default Position is No

Before you make your pitch, let’s think about the reasons people say “no” and the objections that you are most likely to hear. Where does resistance come from?

  • Lack of knowledge: If your idea delves into areas that are not well understood by higher ups, they may not realize the value it can provide.
  • Fear of the unknown: Many people get nervous about going outside of their comfort zone and for staff leadership, there’s more on the line if an idea fails. No one wants to look bad in front of peers and superiors.
  • Lack of resources: We all know that money, time, and even mental energy are finite resources. Nonprofit staff are under ever-increasing pressure to get the biggest bang for the buck.

You can give your idea its best chance for survival by borrowing from the fundraiser’s toolbox: the case statement. A good case statement can help organizational decision-makers understand your idea and its potential for positive impact. If you do this right, it will greatly reduce the chances of a denial.

Making a Case for Support

There is no standard format for a case statement – it could be a slide presentation or a one-pager. It should be as long as it needs to be to address the points but do use plain language and be concise. A case statement will often contain sections such as these:

  1. Problem Statement – What is the issue your idea will solve?
  2. Project Description – Describe your idea and how it will solve the problem. How does your idea connect to the organizational mission?
  3. Project Impact – What are the benefits to the organization and/or patrons?
  4. Resources – Who will be involved and what roles will they play? What resources will be needed [staff, expertise, money, materials]. If these arent readily available, what are some potential sources?
  5. Timeline – What is your proposed timeline for planning and implementation? Is this a one-time project with a beginning and end or will it be ongoing?
  6. Budget – Think through what expenses will be associated with implementing your idea. Be realistic and dont forget to include indirect costs.
  7. Income Opportunities – If your idea has potential for sponsorships, earned income, or other funding, list them here. This section is optional but given the nonprofit executives attention to finances, it can tip opinions in your favor.


  • Talk to development staff about potential project donors. How fundable is your idea? Is crowdfunding a possibility? Does your idea have potential for sponsorships?
  • Does your idea depend on cooperation from other staff? Get their buy-in before the big pitch so you can demonstrate staff support and approval.
  • Have other organizations done something similar? Referencing comparable projects shows that you have done your research and due-diligence.
  • Ask development staff to review and provide feedback on your case statement before you make your pitch. (If you are successful, they will be able to use your document in fundraising materials – it’s a win-win!)
  • Make the pitch in person if possible – your enthusiasm can be very persuasive. You’ll also be there to answer questions and address any objections on the spot.

If you do all this and you still get a “no,” try to find out if it is just for now or forever. Sometimes it really does just come down to timing. On the other hand, if it looks like it’s never going to take off, well, we have to be willing to accept that our precious ideas may be flawed. Learn from it so that your next great idea can be even stronger.

If you’re coming to Americans for the Arts’ National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC) in Atlanta, you can find me Sunday afternoon at the Roundtable Discussions. Along with the talented Katy Malone, I’ll be hosting the discussion Countdown to Ignition: Creative Visitor Engagement Strategies You Can Do Right Now. Since I am a native Atlantan I can say this with complete authenticity: Y’all come on down now, ya’ hear?


The Arts Marketing Blog Salon is generously sponsored by Patron Technology.

1 responses for All The Places You’ll Go (Once You Get Out of the Gate)


October 13, 2014 at 2:15 am

Ann-Laura, thanks for your insightful post. I think many organizations face this issue. Really executive directors, why do you send your marketing directors to a conference if you are not willing to implement at least some of the cool stuff they learn about? Are you sending them just to make friends? :) I agree that "higher ups" need to empower teams to present ideas to be implemented, and even if the idea is nor fully understood, experiment. Report back. Celebrate successes and learn from any failures. Your post gives an excellent outline for how to propose these ideas in a structured method for implementation. Good stuff! -Ron

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