Are Your Heartfelt Nonprofit Stories Stuck in the Elevator Pitch?
Have you ever found yourself, whether by accident or design, face-to-face with a VIP—a Very Important Prospect—and been at a loss for the right words to convey what you do?
It happens to me all the time. I run into someone at a cocktail party and find out they’re the program officer for a corporate foundation. Or I meet someone at an event who I know is a major philanthropist to other charities in our community. Or I plan a prospect visit and right away I’m asked, “Tell me a bit about what you do, and what your biggest challenges are?”
When this happens, what do you say?
All too often, you awkwardly spit out a canned, memorized elevator pitch.
Perhaps something like: “We’re a comprehensive human services agency. Founded in 1850. We help 75,000 people of all ages in five counties. We focus on the underserved.”
Are your eyeballs rolling back into their sockets?
There’s a story—many stories—hiding in there somewhere. Why is it that most of us don’t tell our story when given the opportunity? A story is much more compelling than dry facts and figures. And you don’t have to pitch it.
A Good Story Pitches Itself!
So let’s get your stories unstuck, and get you out of the elevator.
Traditional elevator pitch elements include:
- How you began and why you exist.
- The problem(s) you solve.
- Your impact.
- How you’re distinct from others in your field.
- Why people should care.
- Why you are the best solution.
- What you need most right now.
Rather than stringing these elements together as a bunch of data, try telling an emotional tale. You’ll be amazed at how these elements naturally fall into place.
Begin with your personal connection to the vision and mission. You should be passionate about the story you tell. Passion is contagious.
To ignite personal passions, I ask board members to tell me why they became involved, and stay involved, with their charity. I’ve never had anyone say “because we serve 75,000 people.” It’s usually something personal like, “My mother and sister had breast cancer,” or “I grew up hungry,” or “I was fortunate to attend this school on a scholarship.” Or it may be, “I saw the story about the abandoned kittens, and I just couldn’t ignore it.”
When folks remind themselves why they care, they come back to the fire in the belly that connected them. This is the fire needed to connect others.
Capture Fire-in-the-Belly in a Story
Everyone loves a good story. And it comes much easier to folks than trying to memorize a canned elevator pitch. You’ll find if you practice it, storytelling comes naturally. Our brains are wired to tell stories. It’s the oldest form of human communication.
We’re used to a natural storytelling arc that moves from a difficult situation to a trigger that makes this situation urgent, to a character/protagonist who, encountering the situation, goes on a journey to overcome the trials and tribulations, to a mission (yours) and how this can positively impact the story, to an invitation to become a hero who saves the day.
It looks something like this:
Once upon a time...
- There was this untenable, unfortunate, unbelievable situation ...
- Every day, our protagonist (the person, animal or cause you want to help) faced many obstacles...
- One day our protagonist battled to overcome these obstacles, but sadly...
- Because of that [your organization] stepped in to provide…
- What was most needed...
- But the happy ending has eluded the protagonist this far. A hero is being sought to save the day!
- Finally [what donor can do].
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.