Image by Steve Snodgrass (flickr)
3 min Read
July 20, 2017

Three signs you need an elevator pitch & three ways to get started

When was the last time you rode an elevator and “pitched” your nonprofit to a stranger?

Probably a while ago, if ever.

As outmoded as the name sounds, an elevator pitch is something your nonprofit’s staff and board urgently need if you don’t have a solid one already. You probably just won’t be using it in an elevator very often––more likely at a cocktail party, industry conference, or anywhere else you have an opportunity to talk about your organization to new people.

An elevator pitch is your nonprofit’s spoken introduction. It’s called an “elevator pitch” because it should be possible to deliver it in the time span of an elevator ride, capturing the attention of your audience enough that they ask for more. That means it’s got to be short, sweet, clear, and engaging. It’s a simple and powerful tool.

Here are three signs your nonprofit needs an elevator pitch:

1. Everyone’s telling a different story.

If you ask 10 staff members and board members “What does [enter name of your nonprofit] do?” and you get a vast variety of responses that all focus on different ideas. If your board members are saying “I never know how to answer that question” then you badly need one.

2. Your communicators tend to be long-winded.

If it takes people a long time to answer the question before they feel they’re done or come up for air. Sigh.

3. Your message isn’t clear.

If, at the end of that long spiel, you’re still scratching your head thinking, “So, what do they actually do?” then you definitely have some work to do.

These symptoms are very common.

And let’s be clear: crafting an elevator pitch in a vacuum won’t solve all of these challenges. Typically, there’s deeper brand strategy and messaging that needs to happen first.

Here are three tips to keep in mind whether you’re looking to brush up your existing elevator pitch or are ready to start from a blank page.

1. Don’t pack in too much content.

There’s some debate out there about how long an elevator pitch should actually be—20 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes? In our experience, shorter elevator pitches are usually better. Ideally one to three sentences. If it’s longer than that, chances are the people who need to use it the most—staff and board—won’t memorize it and it won’t actually be used. Think of an elevator pitch as an invitation to keep the conversation going with your audience, not the whole conversation. Remember, this is a conversation opener– not a monologue.

2. Make it accessible and conversational.

The trickiest part of introducing your nonprofit’s work may be avoiding the trap of the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias that happens when someone assumes that the person they’re speaking with has the background to understand what they’re saying. Your elevator pitch should be developed assuming the audience knows literally nothing about your cause or what you do. Avoid all industry lingo (e.g. “We are a data-driven human services organization”) and challenge yourself to say what you mean in truly conversational, human terms. It shouldn’t sound rehearsed.

3. Lead with the benefits.

Try starting with the benefits or impact of your work in your pitch, not specifically what you do or how you do it. By now, you probably have seen Simon Sinek’s viral TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action” where he communicates the power of starting with the “why”—don’t just say what you do, but why you do it.

Once you have your elevator pitch statement written on a page, grab a colleague or two and test it out verbally. How does it sound? Tripping over any words? Any sentences too long? Make changes before sharing it with your team and trying it out in the real world.

Lastly, remember to practice, share, and refine constantly. If you don’t remind people to use it, give them chances to practice it, and ask for their input to make updates it will end up on the shelf gathering dust.

Ally Dommu

Ally Dommu is the Director of Service Development, Worker-Owner at Big Duck

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