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Building a Good Elevator Pitch for Your Nonprofit

Posted on 21st January 2011 by Gray Digital
By Admin |January 21st, 2011

Everyone involved in fundraising should know the basic concept of an elevator pitch.

Why?  Because good elevator pitches make money.

What is an elevator pitch?   It’s a short speech you give every time someone asks about what you do or where you work.   Here’s the basic scenario.  You get on the elevator and someone strikes up a conversation with you and asks where you work?   You respond with a few well-rehearsed lines in which you quickly sum up what work you do, why it’s important, and what makes your organization unique.   Then you gracefully hand off your business card.

The locations can vary.  The pitch can vary as you fine-tune it.   But the time limitation needs some respect.  Most people go wrong on the time limitation.  Keep it very short—around 30 seconds.

First, you must recognize that a question about where you work or what you do is an opportunity.   We run into these situations all the time.  Whether in line at the grocery store, at your kid’s soccer game, or, on the Metro, you can quickly find yourself in a conversation with a stranger.

Your new friend may be a potential donor.   And, you have about 30 seconds to let her know the nuts and bolts of what you do.   This is no time to explain your organization’s vision, mission, and core values statements. The time constraint may be real or self-imposed.  You want to keep the pitch short (even if you have more time) so that you don’t risk overwhelming the person with an unsolicited 5-minute infomercial.

If you are not using conversational language in your elevator pitch you are making a mistake.  An elevator pitch that uses $10 words like those found in many vision statements will not be very memorable.  If you rush the delivery of the words or sound like you are reciting, it will sound like a sales pitch.  The trick is to rehearse so often that it doesn’t sound like a sales pitch.  You should sound natural and conversational when you deliver your elevator speech and know it so well that you can even pause momentarily as if you are gathering thoughts mid-sentence.

Here are some examples:


Bad (because it requires translation for those people outside the Nonprofit community): I’m the Executive Director for the Stop Homelessness Coalition of the Greater Metropolitan Area of the District of Columbia that maintains facilities that provide shelter for homeless constituents.  Our client-focused educational process creates an environment that fosters dignity and provides value for not only our clients but also stakeholders and the community at large.  Application of these principles ……[continuing for 30 seconds].


Worse: Anything that goes over a minute–even if it isn’t using lofty Nonprofit-ese wording.


Good: I’m Executive Director for a Nonprofit that runs homeless shelters.   We [pause] help about 1,300 people per night get out of the cold during the winter months and team up with other Nonprofits to provide food for them.  [Collect a thought] What makes us different is that we have a successful job training program that helps many homeless families back on their feet.  Here’s my card.  If you’d like to see what we do, check out our website.

The hand off of the card is also vital, especially if you have a great website that really tells your organization’s story in words, pictures, and video.


The keys to a good elevator pitch are brevity, plain language, and repetition.

Write it down.  Rehearse it.  Practice it on the other staff or the volunteers.  Get feedback.  Ask to hear their elevator pitches.  Make it fun.