Picture this: you’re having a conversation (at a party or business networking event), and you mention that you work at your nonprofit organization, Good Cause Inc.
“Oh, that’s interesting,” someone in the room says. “What is Good Cause Inc.? What does your organization do?”
This is a golden opportunity, and you know it. How often do we all struggle to get new people interested in our organization and its work? And here is someone spontaneously asking, “So, what do you do?”
How to waste your golden opportunity
Just for a moment, you have the other person’s attention. Even if they’re just being polite, they have offered to listen. But not for long. If you don’t tell them something that interests them right away, they’ll discover they have to go refill their plate–preferably in another room!
Here’s how NOT to answer “What do you do?”
Don’t recite your mission statement. Even the best mission statement (like the one that Joanne Fritz teaches you to write) has two drawbacks.
- It’s written mainly to guide people inside the organization, and…
- It’s a “statement.” That makes it a conversation-stopper–when a conversation is exactly what you want to start.
Don’t try to give an all-inclusive definition. No one is taking notes so they can complain later that the way you explained it didn’t fit the whole picture. (Honestly, at first they’re not paying that much attention!)
If you get the person who asked you the question interested, then you can go on and expand on what you said to catch their interest.
Don’t give a list of your programs. Your programs are not what you do–they are how you do it. That’s not what the person asked you.
If you want their interest, you will tell them what you do…and why they should care.
So, when you’re asked about your nonprofit organization, what should you say instead?
The Nonprofit Elevator Pitch
It’s brief enough that you could share all of it with someone you just met in the time you’d spend riding together in an elevator. But in just a couple of sentences, it makes the person you’re talking to say, “Tell me more!”
What can you say that will provoke that kind of interest? You can focus on results. Not “measurable outcomes” (the way you would for a grant proposal), but clear benefits you provide to real people, described in ordinary language.
Let me share a couple of examples with you.
Example #1: Communicate! Consulting
It’s true, Communicate! Consulting is a small business and not a nonprofit. But I face the same challenge that you do when people ask me what I do. I have to find a way to win people’s interest, quickly.
Imagine you’re in a room with me when somebody asks me what I do. I could say, “I’m a donor communications consultant.” And then we’d both watch their eyes glaze over.
So instead, I focus on results. I answer:
I help nonprofit organizations to make loyal friends. We find the best ways to communicate with the donors who will support them year in and year out, so the organizations can keep on doing their good work.
That gets my conversation partner thinking. And it usually leads to a discussion of why nonprofits need donations from individuals, and why loyalty matters…and yes, what services I offer.
But talking literally about “what I do” comes later–once the person who’s asking me questions can imagine their favorite nonprofit being better off because they referred the organization to me.
Your nonprofit organization can do what my business does. You can introduce the people you meet to the great things that happen when they support your organization. You can get them to imagine those great results. And the conversation will go on from there.
Example #2: the networking nonprofit
I’d like to introduce you to Social Capital Inc., an organization that’s dedicated to strengthening the social fabric. SCI thinks building relationships and social networks is the key to making everything good happen: for a young person seeking a job, a nonprofit looking for donors, or a community trying to come together for the common good.
That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? The leaders of the organization realized they needed a better way of answering the “what do you do” question. They came to me for advice.
Here’s the elevator pitch I’ve suggested to them:
Did you know there’s one magic ingredient that makes communities, nonprofit organizations, AND young people stronger?
That key ingredient is the network of relationships that each of them can count on. Some people and some communities already have a strong set of relationships with people who can help. Others don’t, yet.
Social Capital Inc. stirs more of that magic ingredient—relationships—into the mix. Because all of us want to see young people become leaders, and good causes attract support, and whole communities bond together and achieve their goals. Right?
Pitch and catch: creating conversation
You may have noticed that the example above is a little longer than your standard “elevator pitch.” It also begins and ends with questions. That’s something I recommend.
Because having an elevator pitch is better than searching for words, but it’s not the best you can do. When someone asks you, “What does your nonprofit do?”, what you really want is not to “pitch” someone but have a conversation with them. It’s like pitch and catch. It goes both ways.
So, next Monday, in Part 2 of this three-part series, you’ll learn how to prepare a real dialogue. I’ll show you how you can ask questions, listen to answers, and tell stories–all the things that will make your conversation partner enjoy talking with you about your organization. (Wouldn’t that be fun?)
You don’t have to waste any more opportunities. You can turn them into gold, instead. Check back next Monday.
And in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Have you used an elevator pitch for your organization? Should you? What do you think?