How to Nail the Perfect Elevator Pitch

You have just 2 minutes with a prospective donor. It’s time to #NailYourPitch.

One of the most common situations you’ll find yourself in working in the nonprofit field: Having a casual conversation with someone—someone who might even be a prospective sponsor or major donor!—and getting the question, “So what does your organization do?”

This is the perfect segue to a meaningful, productive dialogue about your nonprofit’s mission. One that could, if handled right, could lead to a powerful partnership.

You need a quick, simple response to this question in your back pocket—one that showcases your work, why it’s important, and leaves the door open for future conversations about gifts and sponsorships. We call this tidy little explanation your “elevator pitch.”

An elevator pitch should be one or two sentences, with more you can include if given the time. It should be refined, but not come out rehearsed. It’s something you and your team should practice until it is natural and second nature.

So how do you write one? Here’s a very simple template to follow for crafting your pitch:

“This is what we do, why we do it, and how you can help.”

“Here’s What We Do.”

Your basic pitch should be succinct and no frills—don’t try to include too much detail or cram lots of information into it. Get at the core of your work and the impact it has. This is a great time to brainstorm with staff and board members about representing what you do, and how you do it in as few words as possible.

Let’s say your organization builds and funds water infrastructure projects in poor communities, then works within the community to operate and maintain those resources into the future. This is pretty long-winded, and might lose your audience’s attention—not because it isn’t compelling, but because it doesn’t get to the point. And it includes a lot of specifics and details that aren’t necessary at this introductory stage.

Here’s an example of a fast and savvy pitch: “We work to ensure all children—regardless of income—have access to clean water and sanitation.”

Note that sometimes your elevator pitch might end up a little reductive, and that’s okay! Once the door is open with your prospective sponsor or donor, you’ll have more opportunities to answer specific questions and get into the meat of your work.

“This Is Why We Do It.”

The next critical piece of the pitch equation: Why does this work matter, and why is your organization best positioned to do it?

A clearly-defined need is a great way to grab someone’s attention right out of the gate. “Without clean water, illness and disease can spread easily—especially among children.”

Try starting your pitch with an engaging question that will immediately pique the listener’s curiosity: “Did you know 2 million Americans live without access to clean water?” It’s straightforward and fast. If you have a longer moment to work with, you could add a surprising statistic for more gravity: “Studies show that access to clean water leads to better health and education outcomes for kids.”

You know your hot topics better than anyone! Capitalize on the parts of your nonprofit’s story that carry emotional weight. You’ll want to hold your prospect’s attention for the most critical part of the pitch.

“Here’s How You Can Help.”

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to bring everything together. Why is your nonprofit best positioned to do this work—and what do you need to continue doing it? You’ve outlined a clear problem, and now comes the solution: “In two years we brought water access to 10,000 families, and have plans for 20,000 more.”

It’s exceptionally powerful to include hard numbers as a result of your nonprofit’s activity. You’re telling potential prospects that you know what you’re doing… and you get results.

But you can’t do it alone—every nonprofit relies on donors to fund this important work. By now, your potential supporter is hopefully asking you how they can help. This is a great opportunity to talk about how past giving has led to tangible achievements. Don’t be afraid to position sponsorships and gifts as filling specific needs.

And if they aren’t asking, you might gently add one last piece: Does this cause interest you? And how can a curious party get involved?

“We’re always looking for people who share our passion to help expand these efforts.” This leaves the door wide open in a friendly way that doesn’t put pressure on donating, because there are many wonderful paths for prospective donors to get involved outside of monetary giving. That involvement can be just as valuable, such as serving as a board member—which may lead to a big donation down the line.

Give everyone an opportunity to help at a level they feel comfortable with. It’s only the beginning of a relationship!

Next time we’ll talk about delivering your pitch!

It’s all about practice, practice, practice. Before your next serendipitous meeting with a potential donor, let’s #NailYourPitch!

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