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Allison Gauss
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Create a Stellar Elevator Pitch for Your Nonprofit Organization

“What does your nonprofit do and why do I need to care?”

Can you answer that question at a moment’s notice?

Can you deliver it for anyone to understand?

If not, you should probably take the stairs because to deliver a great elevator pitch, you need to convey your mission and purpose in a flash. An “Elevator Pitch” is often talked about in relation to filmmakers, writers or entrepreneurs, but development professionals will know too well how important the quick pitch is for nonprofit fundraising efforts.

The pitch should engage your audience in a way that encourages them to learn more about your organization and excites them to become involved.

If you were a screenwriter and needed to pitch a producer, you would have to sell your story, passion and potential for success in the same breath. The same is true of a development professional to a donor. Who knew development officers had so much in common with screenwriters?

It takes time to nurture a relationship with a big donor, but situations also arise in which you need to make an impression in a minute or less. You can’t give a full case statement when you run into a big donor in an elevator, at a crowded event, or by chance at the ballpark.

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In this post we will cover how to prepare an effective elevator pitch, so you’re ready no matter what the occasion.

Can You Explain Your Organization in One Sentence?

Oftentimes it isn’t possible to explain everything your nonprofit does in one sentence, but that’s O.K. A solid introduction of your value and purpose will be the most important attention grabber for your pitch. If you have 30 seconds with a potential sponsor, you don’t want to spend it overloading them with information or making it so basic that it doesn’t feel compelling.

An elevator pitch does take a lot of preparation and should go through several iterations and evaluations before it feels solid, so do not get discouraged if your first pass doesn’t feel just right. The pitch should include two pieces:

1. Organization description

2. A pitch, aka the ask or call-to-action

Develop a succinct description of your organization – or maybe a couple that can be used in different situations – that doesn’t use jargon or unnecessarily formal language. This will serve as your pitch’s introduction. One way to approach the introduction is to utilize your organization’s mission statement. If your organization doesn’t already have a very concise mission statement, then you’ll need to:

1. Shorten

2. Simplify

3. Clarify

Shortening, simplifying and clarifying your mission statement doesn’t mean you need to dumb it down. It means find the most important parts – the one or two details that particular important donor must know. If someone has to ask a question to understand what you do, or why it even pertains to him or her, you are probably wasting precious time. Questions should lead your audience to brand new information, not ask you to repeat yourself.

Shorten, Simply, and Clarify the Mission Statement

An Example

We seek to empower Tallahassee’s low-income families by offering financial services and education programs to help them achieve home ownership and economic stability.

What are the main ideas?

“offering financial services and education programs” and “achieve home ownership and economic stability”

Now we have something shorter

We offer financial services and education programs to help low-income families achieve home ownership and economic stability.

That is a single sentence, but might be a little too formal for conversation.

Let’s reword it.

“What does your organization do?”

“We help low-income families become more financially stable with free classes and professional advice.”

This sentence is shorter and simpler, but it doesn’t require more clarification. In one sentence, we know who they serve, how they help, and what outcome they work toward. A good elevator pitch should give all this information in the plainest way possible. With an introduction like this, you can move on to how that donor can engage with the cause.

Planned and Unplanned Pitches

A planned elevator pitch can be used when you know you will have a short window to talk to someone. If you are attending a gala or other event and you know a valuable contact will be there, you can think ahead to your pitch. You will probably start with your one sentence introduction if they don’t know you yet. The next part, however, isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Now that they know who you are and what you do, you need to explain what they can do. If you think you will see this contact soon, take the time to think about what outcome you would want from the encounter. Would you like someone to match donations for your next campaign? Can this business-owner make an in-kind donation? Do you think they would be a great member of your board?

Ideally, you would also think about how you would make the ask. You can reference some philanthropic work they’ve done in the past, or mention that their experience would be a great asset. The goal is to work your ask into the conversation naturally and show them why they are a great fit for your needs.

When you run into someone unexpected, you’ll have to make your ask or pitch a bit more ad hoc, but the elevator pitch introduction should still hold. In these cases, you may need to do some listening before asking a potential donor to engage with your nonprofit. What are their interests? Do they align with your organization?

This isn’t just important to making a good pitch, it’s important in deciding whether to make a pitch at all. If you feel this person may actually be interested in your cause or programming but you’re not sure what role they can play, make the ask more about keeping them in the loop about ways to become involved.

Present Yourself as an Opportunity

When a screenwriter pitches an idea to a film producer, they aren’t simply asking for money. If the idea is a good one and the film is successful, the producer stands to make a big profit. The pitch doesn’t say “help me!” it says “I think we can help each other.” Of course, as a nonprofit, you can’t offer a potential partner a big paycheck at the end. While the producer needs to be convinced the film will make money, a donor needs to believe in your impact.

Elevator pitches are an invitation to be a part of your organization, not just a solicitation. Explaining what you do, why it’s important and how someone’s involvement is an opportunity to be part of a larger vision, will create more excitement around your mission. Use elevator pitches as moments to highlight your passion and infuse others with the same electric energy for your cause.


Do you know who your donors are?

know your donors field guide for nonprofits



Image Credit: Gideon Tsang

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