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How to Nail Your Nonprofit’s Elevator Pitch


By Will Schmidt

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Published July 18, 2018 Reading Time: 4 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:

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.

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

The Structure of Your Pitch

An elevator pitch for nonprofits can be broken down 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 you make. 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 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 any impact stories that are amazing?
  • 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 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 as a peer-to-peer fundraiser?
  • 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 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 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.

The Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling

The Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling

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