by Kristin Croone, JD
Most of you are probably familiar with the term “elevator pitch.” It may sound simple, but in the moment, it can be difficult to clearly communicate what you do without underselling yourself. It requires forethought and rehearsal to tell your organization’s story concisely and still make an impact. In one or two minutes, can you tell someone the purpose of your organization when they’ve never heard of it? What about a potential donor who asks about your organization’s story? Is your story engaging enough to stick with them days later?
Three parts of the two-minute story.
When telling your story in under two minutes, the three key points you want to communicate are: what your mission is, why you do what you do and how your organization works to carry out your mission.
- Who you are [and what you do].
Begin by giving a one or two sentence summary of who you are and what your organization does. Start with your organization’s mission statement. Define the “who”, “what” and “why” in one or two sentences. It should be a big picture summary that provides a starting point for your pitch.
- Why you do what you do.
The “why” is the gap your organization fills in society. It’s the purpose of your mission. Keep in mind that what might seem obvious to you might not be familiar to the donor. In the “what” you identified the general focus, but now you define the specific problems your organization works to solve or service you provide to a specific population. Why does your organization exist? If you are a local children’s literacy organization, the literacy and education statistics will vary significantly from other organizations and populations. You may be the only one of your kind in your area. Your audience is likely to recognize that literacy is an important issue but be unaware of organizations that provide specific solutions. Clearly define why you do what you do. Creating need recognition is key.
- How you help.
What do you do to alleviate the problem? What services do you provide? What actions do you take? Remember your audience is a potential donor. You’ve told them who you are and the cause you work for. You’ve identified the problem that needs organizations like yours to address. Now tell them how you address it. Or in other words, if they give you a donation, what do you use it for?
Just like for-profit businesses, nonprofits need to communicate what sets them apart from other organizations that target the same need. Do you offer a solution or service that is unique or the only one addressing this issue in your area? What kind of results do you see?
Preparing the pitch.
On average, a person can say about 75 words in 30 seconds. Be intentional when building your story. Who you are should be the shortest section. Then, take enough time to clearly define your purpose or why your organization is necessary. Use your remaining time to explain how your organization meets this need. This last portion should be the longest.
Write how you speak. Read your first draft out loud to yourself in a conversational tone. Try not to sound too formal or stiff. Make any necessary changes. Now read it again and time yourself. Don’t check the clock or worry about how long or short it might be. If you covered the essentials and your pitch is around one-and-a-half minutes, you’re done for the day. Once you feel familiar enough with your pitch, time yourself without checking your notes. If you consistently finish around the one-and-a-half-minute mark, you don’t need to add anything. If you are below one minute, see if there is anything important you left out. If you’re over two minutes, look for a sentence or two you can cut or combine.
While you should write out your pitch and rehearse the story, it’s not a script. You are unlikely to remember it word for word, and you don’t need to. Being familiar with the points to cover and the most important aspects of your organization to highlight will allow you to speak intentionally without sounding like you are reading word for word from a script.
Having a short pitch prepared allows you to communicate your story efficiently so you don’t become a nuisance or make a potential donor feel trapped in a conversation. By having a short pitch that communicates your story, you are prepared for building unexpected, but welcome, opportunities and establishing new relationships.
Kristin Croone is a Sharpe Group senior consultant with experience in donor stewardship as well as tax and estate planning law.