Are Your Heartfelt Nonprofit Stories Stuck in the Elevator Pitch?
I remember a hospital board member who said her daughter’s finger was severed, then reattached, by a doctor who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Here’s how she turned this event into a compelling story:
"Once upon a time, my daughter lost her finger [unfortunate situation] in an accident with a slamming car door. The local hospital said they couldn’t reattach it [obstacle]. My daughter was inconsolable! Playing piano and sports were what she lived for [why obstacle untenable]. I called my doctor, who put us in touch with this hospital for a second opinion. Long story short, because this hospital had state-of-the-art equipment and the best surgeons money can buy (all due to philanthropy) [donors saved the day], they attached her finger [what was most needed right now] and she’s now living happily ever after!"
Board and staff alike should be able to weave together both (1) their own personal story/passion, and (2) a story about the impact your nonprofit has—the people, animals, places or things that are helped—due to philanthropy.
This means developing a practice of collecting and telling stories, which I discuss in 6 Best Ways to Make Storytelling Part of Your Nonprofit Culture.
As business and thought leader Jim Collins taught us: We are known by the stories we can tell.
Get Your Story on the Best-Seller List
Let’s face it. Donors have lots of stories to choose from. So why choose yours? This gets back to the final elements of the traditional elevator pitch: (1) “Why you?” and (2) “What do you need most right now?”
Folks want to know what is most urgent, because there are many deserving causes all competing for their philanthropy. They want to give where it will make the greatest impact. And where they’ll get the biggest bank for their buck.
Can you blame them?
Tell folks why they should choose you.
You’ve got to show folks they’ll get the biggest bang for their buck with you. Not simply “we’re the oldest or the biggest” but “all our staff are survivors; they know how to work with this population.” Or “we have the most Nobel Prize winners; we’re likely to find the cure faster.”
Tell folks why it’s urgent.
I’ve been on visits with board members and E.D.s who couldn’t answer this critical question. They’d stammer out, “Oh, everything is important,” or “Whatever you choose to give to will be appreciated.” That’s nice, if you want a token gift. It’s definitely not passionate or inspiring.
If you want your story to rise to the top of your prospective donor’s philanthropy list, you’ve got to create urgency and be crystal clear about what you need (dollar amount) and what that gift will accomplish (amazing happy ending).
There’s a huge difference between “we need money to help poor Holocaust survivors” and a compelling narrative, with all the elements a good story should have, that concludes with a specific ask and urgency:
“Now in the final chapter of their lives, because of all they endured, many suffer from illness and have special medical and psychological needs as a result of the profound trauma they experienced. We have a waiting list of 300 survivors—most in their 80’s and older—and seek funding now, while the need is intensifying and acute, to build an Emergency Assistance Fund. We’re seeking $500,000 to provide the care they need for food, shelter, safety, health and welfare.”
Your nonprofit will be known by—and will live and die by—the stories you can tell.