Friday, September 10, 2010

    10 Elevator Pitch Tips for Non-Profits

    When speaking to nonprofit leaders, one of the first things I ask them to share with me is their elevator pitch - the quick description of your cause that will motivate a listener to ask for more information, invest in your efforts and/or encourage others to engage with your organization. This provides me with:

    How: How focused leadership is on the organization's mission?
    What: What is the organization focused on and trying to do?
    Why: Why should someone support this organization (the case for support.)

    Granted, if there is a lack of clarity on a), it is likely b) & c) are murky. The same can be said for c) if b) is unclear. More importantly, if your leadership can't speak about why to invest in your organization, why would anyone on the team be able to do so? ...And why should a donor invest in you?

    Along these lines, Paul Hudnut recently blogged about Chip & Dan Heath's newsletter article on six great tips for elevator pitches. Hudnut also provided four additional tips to equal ten tips for elevator pitches.

    Given how important this can be for non-profits, I provide you with the Heath & Hudnut list,
    Through Non-Profit Eyes. I believe it is important for everyone in your non-profit to have a sense for the elevator pitch, even if they are "backroom" staff who many rarely or never engage with constituents. There is a sense of focus and importance that comes with an employee fine-tuning the elevator pitch.

    1. Think short - no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than 3 minutes. Time it. Practice it. Get feedback from your invested donors and board members.

    2. If your topic is complex,
    use the "anchor & twist" format to orient your audience. Anchor on your organization's impact - we help people lift themselves up, we help students graduate from college and make an impact in the community, we prevent childhood obesity, etc. - and twist to the investment that will make the end result happen.

    Don't wing it, script it. Once you've figured out how to explain something well, there is NO value in novelty. Tell it the same (effective) way every time. (* I must add that while you should script it, it does not mean you can't improve your script over time via input, etc.) Videotape yourself and critique how engaging you are. As the old Head & Shoulders campaign reminded us: you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

    'Why' comes before 'What.' People will understand better what you're doing if they first know why you're doing it. Here's an example: "Most people invest some of their savings and give some of it away to charity. Wouldn't it be nice if you could do both at once -- get interest AND impact? That's why we invented the Calvert Community Investment Notes."

    5. Mandatory:
    Include a story. For a nonprofit pitch, talk about the people or cause you help. Put a true face to the aide.

    Check out other pitches for inspiration. Here's one that the Heath brothers worked on for Peter Singer's great book, The Life You Can Save:

    7. Know what you want and
    include an ask. This does not have to be a request for a financial contribution - it can be an ask for volunteer work, ideas or even just more time to discuss your organization. Invite them to be engaged with your efforts.

    8. Tell "who." Illustrate why you and your team are the right people to implement your efforts and why you will be successful. People like winners. Illustrate why you and your co-workers are winners.

    Use questions as well as statements. This shifts your audience from questioning and challenging your idea to wanting to assist you.

    Delivery matters. In the restaurant business, it is a common training tip for wait staff to say something like "Your customer should never know if you're having a bad day." The same goes for your elevator pitch - have passion, clarity and focus. Make it clear you are not just an employee of the non-profit, but a believer, ambassador and active participant.
    Think through all the non-verbal aspects of your pitch. Videotape yourself. Seriously. You get one chance to make your best impression.

    Your goals:
    a) Make your audience curious - you want them to leave wondering what they could do for you and what more they could learn about your cause.
    b) Get your audience to discuss your pitch with others.
    c) Have an opportunity to revisit the audience members to firm up investment of time, talent and money.

    Share your thoughts, elevator pitch and other input below in the comments section!

    Related posts, by topic:


    Rich Foss said...

    Great tips. I'm going to put a link on my blog to this post.

    Vivian said...

    Very helpful article, thanks!
    I think the most helpful advice you gave was to stick with your elevator speech once you develop it. That way, you can pay attention to the verbal and NON-verbal response you are getting and be thinking about what you need to expand on AFTER your elevator pitch. For example, here at Just Tell ( we are working with a new paradigm--- using social networks and teen volunteers to reach kids who are being sexually abused. Using their peers as messengers, as well as social media for outreach, requires some real explaining in a 2 minute elevator speech!

    Devin Mathias said...

    Thanks for the feedback Rich & Vivian!

    Deb said...

    I think this would be a good thing to use when training volunteers. It's brief and gives them the ability to represent the organization.


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