People make judgments about others in a matter of seconds.
When we meet new people, we tend to instantly place them into categories based on what we hear and see in those first seconds.
While these assumptions usually aren’t accurate, they allow someone whose time is extremely valuable—such the president of a company or a wealthy philanthropist—to make quick decisions about what deserves their limited time and attention.
Making a killer first impression is key to getting that limited attention. And securing more time in the future depends on how you pitch your nonprofit and whether your audience feels compatible with you.
Tone, poise, and conversational style determine your first impression.
You know your nonprofit inside and out—which can both help and hurt you.
Come into your pitch with confidence and authority, but not arrogance. Let your prospect feel like you are speaking with the voice of the organization.
Your in-depth understanding of the mission means you can answer any questions that might be thrown your way. Take advantage of it—but don’t overload listeners with information. Keep answers short and succinct without being dismissive or condescending.
Let your audience feel smart!
Don’t assume your potential donor understands concepts or jargon that you do. (Check out our previous article about How to Nail the Perfect Elevator Pitch to learn more about discovering your core mission and conveying it in a way that’s easy to digest.)
No one likes to feel ignorant or out of the loop. Avoid framing any new concepts as obvious or common sense. It’s okay if you stop to explain a term along the way, or simply wait until you’ve gotten deeper into the conversation to introduce new terminology.
Practice, practice, practice.
A natural and conversational speaking style may seem innate, but it’s something anyone can practice and master.
The worst thing you can do is deliver a pitch that sounds rehearsed. Speaking too fast gives your listener whiplash, and can come across as manufactured rather than personal.
Try to think of your pitch as a conversation with a friend. This isn’t a powerpoint presentation—it’s a dialogue between you and the prospect. It’s inherently personal, and that’s good.
Practice your “conversational” pitch with a colleague or staff member. Record yourself talking and play it back to get a deeper understanding of how you sound in your head versus how you sound to everyone else.
Allow the other party to get a word in edgewise. There will be natural pausing points in your pitch where your potential supporter can ask clarifying questions. It’s okay if you don’t finish the whole pitch! A healthy dialogue with the prospect is much more important than getting all the information out.
Listen as much as you talk.
You want to work together to achieve this mission. It’s not something you can do alone—which means your donors’ ideas and opinions matter.
As you talk about your work, leave space for the donor’s thoughts and opinions. This cause is important to both of you, so make them feel like collaborators.
Sponsors and donors give because they want to be a part of something special—and true, lasting passion for the cause comes from feeling like their contribution matters. They want to know they’re making a difference.
Easy mistakes everyone makes.
Avoid hedging, backpedaling, or expounding on unimportant details.
Especially in the nonprofit industry, certain ways of communicating can become commonplace—and may not translate well to an initial contact conversation.
Don’t hedge means you don’t question yourself, your mission or your organization in this initial impression. No part of your pitch should contain “but” or “think.” You know. You do.
Don’t backpedal means you don’t stop for corrections or get off-topic. “What I mean by that is…” Cut these kinds of phases from your pitch vocabulary.
Avoid disrupting your pitch to explain something in detail unless your listener prompts you. The mission is the most important piece of the puzzle; let your future donor decide what that means to them.