A business case clearly sets out the reasoning for initiating a project or service, with the aim of convincing a decision maker to take action. You might want senior management commitment to a new volunteering initiative, resources to fund an additional staff post; or investment in training and development for existing staff or volunteers.

To make a robust case, you need to take time to research and consider options, and weigh up benefits, risks and costs. Here are some tips to give your case the best chance of success.

1. Be strategic.
Make sure you demonstrate a clear link between your project or service and the strategic objectives of your organisation.

2. Meet the decision makers’ priorities
You need to be clear about who the decision makers are, and what matters most to them? Answers to these questions will help you present your case in the best possible light.

3. Identify options
There is likely to be more than one way to achieve your aims. A strong business case will consider a number of alternative options, and explain why the recommended approach is the best one.

4. Cost/Benefit Analysis
You need to weigh up the costs and benefits of what you are proposing, and make sure that the potential benefits for your organisation more than justify the investment involved. Base your business case on two or three strong benefits, relevant to your organisation’s aims. Listing too many small benefits can actually weaken your case, as the reader may focus on minor benefits and dismiss them, losing the stronger arguments in the process.

5. Evidence Base
Your business case must be built on an evidence base. What has your organisation done in the past that has worked/not worked, and what is the impact of past experience? What have other organisations done? What external research findings can you draw on to back up your conclusions?

Examples sources of evidence are:

Volunteer Investment and Value Audit Self Help Guide (Institute of Volunteering Research)
This is valuable for putting a monetary value on volunteering, by looking at what it could cost to employ equivalent paid staff. A caveat – although putting a value on volunteering can be a powerful influencer in demonstrating a return on investment, saving money should never be the only reason for involving volunteers. Always look also at what volunteers bring above and beyond the monetary value of their labour.

Impact of Volunteering – Evidence Bank (Institute of Volunteering Research)
A variety of research reports evaluating the impact of volunteering, a useful resource bank of data and ideas.

6. Liven it up
Evidence is essential, but this doesn’t mean that it needs to be presented in a way that is dry and dull. Can you paint a picture of the positive benefits? Make your business case interesting. Emotion plays a big part in decision making. If decision makers feels positive about an idea, then your hard facts and figures can help them justify a desire to go ahead.

7. Anticipate objections
When you are putting together your business case, look at the other side, be honest about the level of opposition you may receive. Do a robust risk assessment and consider measures to minimise the risks. Address potential objections or risks upfront by outlining them in your business case document, and set out the measures that you will put in place to address them.

8. Make it look good
The way you present information can affect how it is received.  This is sometimes called the “halo” effect. If something is laid out well, then we tend to be pre-disposed to look on it favourably. This is the opposite of the “horns” effect, where shoddy presentation will undermine good content, as will a lack of attention to detail, spelling mistakes and factual errors. So give attention to the presentation. Lay out the text clearly and proofread thoroughly. Double check your sources and reference them accurately. Make it easy for the reader to find the relevant information.

What do you think?