2 min Read
April 17, 2019

The case for a boring elevator pitch

When you tell someone where you work, and they say, “What’s that?” do you have an answer? And does your answer align with the answers of everyone else at your organization?

Many nonprofits desperately need an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a one- or two-sentence introduction to your organization that everyone can memorize and rattle off when someone asks, “What’s [organization name]?”

There’s a lot of advice out there about what your elevator pitch should or shouldn’t be. Things like…

  • Start with the need!
  • Start with the outcome!
  • Start with a question!
  • Memorize it, so it sounds natural!
  • Don’t memorize it, so it sounds natural!
  • No longer than one sentence!
  • No longer than 30 seconds!
  • No longer than two minutes!

Now that I’ve been writing elevator pitches for well over a decade, I’m adding my own advice. From what I can tell, when it comes to the nonprofit sector, the most successful elevator pitches have one thing in common…

They are boring.

Yes, that’s right. Great elevator pitches are incredibly dull.

First and foremost, an elevator pitch needs to be clear. You should have a clear answer for the question, “What’s that?” when you say the name of your organization.

I work at Big Duck. So I get that question a lot. And I say, “Big Duck is a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits.”

Where I go from there depends a lot on context and follow-up questions. Sure, not everyone knows what a communications firm is, but most people I talk to have some idea they’re circling around that’s vaguely accurate.

You’ll notice that our elevator pitch is not flashy at all. It’s direct. And simple. Unless the follow-up conversation demands it, I don’t get into why nonprofits need smart communications to achieve their missions or how those missions change the world, although we believe those two things.

But clarity is just one part of why I think our elevator pitch works. Perhaps even more importantly, I can remember it, and I can say it naturally. And I say it a lot. Because it’s simple, it’s also memorable. There’s little point in having an elevator pitch if your staff and board can’t remember it or recite it easily.

Here are a few examples of the first sentences of elevator pitches we’ve recently created for some of our clients:

  • Chinese-American Planning Council is a social services organization that creates positive social change.
  • Girls Inc. is a nonprofit that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.
  • Commonpoint Queens is a social services organization that meets the diverse needs of Queens.

All three of these organizations have complex missions and diverse communications needs, but their elevator pitches are simple, direct, and easy-to-remember. It’s never the only thing that people say about those organizations, but it is the first thing.

If you’re developing your elevator pitch, please make it boring. Focus on keeping it simple and clear, so that everyone at your organization can say it over and over again.

Consistency is key to communication. And when your entire staff and board say the same first thing about your organization, you start to build a powerful single impression of your organization.

There’s power in boring.

Dan Gunderman

Dan Gunderman is the Former Creative Director at Big Duck

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