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How to Nail an Elevator Pitch for Nonprofits


By Will Schmidt

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Published July 18, 2018 Reading Time: 5 minutes

When people begin working on an elevator pitch for nonprofits, they often start by measuring how much time they may have with a listener. A frequently cited measure of time is 118 seconds-this is the length of an average elevator ride in New York City.

While your elevator pitch may very well never take place in an actual elevator, you can use this timeframe as a foundation from which to create a narrative that:

  • Conveys your nonprofit’s mission
  • Demonstrates a data-driven nonprofit strategy
  • Helps increase your fundraising success
  • Encourages listeners to take action

Whether it’s a pre-planned pitch to someone you expect to meet, or an out-of-the-blue conversation, you must be prepared to strike while the iron is hot. And you’ve only got a small window of time to get your point across.

Importance of a Nonprofit Elevator Pitch

Having a successful elevator pitch can allow you to increase donations, engagement, interest, and much more. With a short elevator pitch, you get to summarize the great impact, mission, and change that your nonprofit organization makes.

In the following video, we outline some mistakes to avoid in your nonprofit elevator pitch. Then continue reading to learn what you need in order to create a successful elevator pitch.

The Structure of Your Pitch

When it comes to understanding how to write an elevator pitch that will resonate with your audience and successfully communicate your mission and goals, it’s important to take into account the format of your pitch. Consider breaking it out into three sections: the hook, the body, and the wrap-up. Then, you must bring all the content to life with your delivery. Below, we’ll walk you through timing estimates for each section as well as tips to get the ball rolling.

The Hook

In a perfect world, your hook should only be about 10 to 15 seconds. You need to grab their attention, so don’t waste time with small talk. Just dive right in.

Immediately, deliver a solid introduction that states who you are, the value of your work, and the impact your nonprofit organization makes. Strike a balance that doesn’t overload your listener with information or water down your hook, so you remain compelling.

Develop a succinct description of your organization, or maybe a couple that can be used in different situations. For example, you might experiment by leading with a shocking statistic about the impact you’ve made.

You can also turn to your mission statement to develop a grabby hook. Take the full statement, isolate the main ideas, and refine it for general conversation. It could look like this:

“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.

Now, isolate the main ideas:

We offer financial services and education programs” and “We help people achieve home ownership and economic stability.

Finally, refine it for casual conversation:

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

In one sentence, we know who you serve, how you help, and what impact you make.

The Body

After the hook comes the meat of your pitch, and it should only take up about 30 to 60 seconds. At this phase, you need to describe things like the specific social impact you bring to the communities you serve. You’ve mentioned your value in the hook, now it’s time to prove it.

As an exercise to prepare the body of your pitch, ask and answer questions like:

  • What differentiates your nonprofit from others in the same space?
  • How effective are your current programs?
  • Do you have a compelling story?
  • How can someone get involved right now?
  • What are you preparing to accomplish in the future?

The body isn’t “we do this.” It’s “this is what we do for the people we serve, and this is how you can be a part of that important work.”

The Wrap-Up

To wrap it all up, you only need 15 to 20 seconds. Bring everything home with a very specific ask. It’s a good strategy to know exactly where your nonprofit elevator pitch is heading before you ever write it.

Take the time to think about what outcome you would want from your encounter. For example, do you want someone to:

  • Match donations for your next campaign?
  • Sign up for peer-to-peer fundraising?
  • Make an in-kind donation?
  • Join your board of directors?
  • Share your campaign on their social channels?

Regardless of what your ask is, it can shape your entire pitch. It may even show that you need to create multiple pitches depending on your audience.

The Delivery

Hollywood actresses don’t just show up on set and nail their lines on the first take without loads of prep work. They rehearse, rehearse, and then rehearse some more.

Similarly, you need to know your elevator pitch deeply and intimately. Your delivery is huge-people need to hear, see, and feel your emotional connection to the work you do. Without that, they may not care about what you’re saying.

When it’s time to rehearse your elevator pitch, start by printing it out and reading it aloud to yourself. Pay attention to things like:

  • Sentences you stumble over
  • Overly verbose and fluffy language
  • The clarity of your wording
  • Multiple lines that can be combined together
  • Words you simply hate saying

Then, when you’re pleased with the content, stand in front of the mirror and practice reciting your pitch with your entire body. Pepper in smiles, practice making eye contact with yourself, and get your hands moving.

As a final elevator pitch tip, remember that if you can say something in five words you should say it in five words. Short and simple often trumps long and complex.

Elevator pitches are an invitation to be a part of your nonprofit organization, not just a solicitation. Explain what you do, why it’s important, and how someone’s involvement is an opportunity to be part of a larger vision.

And remember that good copy isn’t ever finished, it’s just abandoned. You can always update your fundraising pitch after field-testing it a few times. In fact, your pitch can and should continually adapt and evolve as you field test it, reiterate, and field test again. After some practice, you’ll be pitching like a pro.

Additional Nonprofit Elevator Pitch Tips to Try Out

Provide Examples 

It is important that you answer all the who, what, where, and why questions. You have to assume that your listener is unfamiliar with your cause. To draw a connection to your audience, consider providing specific examples or sharing success stories to better relate to your listeners as well. However, make sure to not include too many examples, as you only have around 118 seconds to pitch your cause. 

Give out a Business Card 

After presenting your elevator pitch, it is key that your audience has something to refer to after. Have business cards on hand that list your contact information and donation page. That way if a potential donor wants to know more about your cause or make a donation, they have the opportunity to easily connect. If you want to add a touch of personalization, consider including your personal mission statement  on your business card.

Don’t Use Jargon 

Not only is your message important, but how you present your fundraising pitch is vital to a successful delivery. Keep your message simple and precise to help get your point across in the short amount of time you have to wow your audience. But, don’t be afraid to be conversational in your approach as this can help build human connection and keep your listeners engaged. 

Keep it Classy

Once you have your elevator pitch buttoned up and ready to present, it won’t be long before you begin to establish new connections with donors and partners who are inspired by your cause. Once the ball is rolling, making sure you can effectively manage relationships with your donors will be essential to long-term success for your nonprofit. For all things online fundraising and donor management, lean on Classy. Our online giving platform streamlines the entire fundraising process so that you can more easily build awareness while creating a customized giving experience that can unlock the generosity of your supporters.

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