Preparing for a meeting with a potential donor or investor can be, well, nerve-wracking. Fundraising is, however, a necessary part of starting or growing any non-profit organization or small business, and, when done well, can actually provide you an opportunity to showcase your talent and leadership. Use these tips below to transform your pitch into an electrifying story, and put forth your most confident and grounded self.
1. No more industry jargon.
Most of us spend the majority of our time talking to co-workers or peers in the field. This means, we get very comfortable using shorthand, acronyms, and industry jargon on a daily basis. While talking to your fellow colleagues using this insider language is just part of the job, it might not serve you as well when pitching a new donor or investor that isn’t as familiar with your work. Instead, when you’re constructing your talking points, imagine you're talking to your grandmother, or your 10-year-old nephew. Chances are, they have no idea what “sustainability,” “strategic, ” or “scale” actually mean in your specific field.
We all tend to get tunnel vision when it comes to the jargon of our industry, which serves to confuse our audience unless they are exactly as well versed in the industry as we ourselves are. Using more concrete language will bring people into your mission, and help make your point in a clear and concise way; It's not patronizing, it's helpful. Even if a funder or donor is an expert in the field, or already giving money to your organization or business, simple and clear messaging shows that you are able to communicate to a broader base of supporters, and potentially build innovative and cross-sector relationships. Further, your targeted funder will likely find such talking points helpful when explaining your work to their own colleagues and Board of Directors.
Not sure whether the talking points you're currently using are jargon? Ask a friend or relative who works in an entirely different industry or sector. If he or she has no idea what you're talking about, it might be time to revamp and simplify.
2. Start with the basics.
For the most part, it’s the Executive Director, business owner, or development team doing the pitching. These are also the people who spend every day ‘in the weeds’ living and breathing this organization or business. That means when it comes time for a meeting with a funder, donor, or investor, it can be very difficult to figure out exactly how much detail is too much.
When designing your basic pitch, start with the bird's eye view of your organization or business: the general headlines of what you do. As your pitch goes on, your talking points become more focused on the detail of how your organization or business does its work. For example, start with your mission statement and a brief history of the organization or business, then move on to explain your specific programs and projects, your key partners, and your goals.
This type of ‘broad-to-detailed’ pitch will bring your audience along for the ride and into your world. Getting too detailed too quickly will leave your audience confused about how all the pieces add up.
Lastly, you should always always always (yes, always) hammer your points home with your organization's impact. What are the results, both quantitative and qualitative, of your work? This includes both the hard numbers, and also the compelling stories. Be ready with these facts in every meeting you attend.
3. Set yourself apart… it's why you exist, after all.
Don't be afraid to toot your own horn. It may feel uncomfortable, or like bragging, but it's actually just good marketing, and everybody who succeeds must learn to do it. You don't need to throw your peers under the bus in order to explain the precise and unique role that your organization plays in the field, or the gap that your business is filling. If your organization has a slightly different bent on the issues, or your business provides a service no one else does, work it! What is your unique niche? What would happen to the infrastructure of the sector if your group wasn't around? Whatever it is that sets you apart from your competitors or partners, your funding pitch is the time to play it up.
The truth is, there is a fight for limited resources in every industry and within every issue area. When it comes to pitching, you don't have to step on anyone else to win, you just have to be willing to sing your own praises. There is a big difference between saying, “We do this better. Fund us, not them,” and saying “Our organization plays a crucial role in the ecosystem of education reform, and it is imperative for everyone working on these issues that our services remain open and accessible.”
Be nice, but don't be afraid to shine.
4. Channel your inner storyteller.
Think about the best story you've ever heard told out loud. Whether you heard it from a children's book read by the school librarian, or your best friend at the local bar, you know a good story when you hear it. A pitch is no different. You are telling the story of yourself, your organization or business, and its work.
Good stories all have relatively similar components: fascinating lead characters, exciting plot points, and narrators with engaging voices. Now imagine your pitch, but written and told as a story in front of a large crowd. How does this change your tone of voice? How do you use examples and human-interest anecdotes as supporting characters? What feeling do you want to evoke in your audience?
As all of us juggling multiple meetings per day know, sitting in a conference room listening to a good story is a fantastic break from boring a Powerpoint and monotonous lectures. Use your pitch and fundraising meeting as a chance to embody the role of entertainer, and be the dazzling performer who steals the show.
5. Play the game to win.
There is nothing relaxing about asking for money. For some of us, it's harder than others. Many women, people of color, low-income, and LGBTQ individuals (fierce, confident, and strong as we may actually be) have been socialized not to be vocal about our needs, or demand anything at all.
But regardless of who we are, our feelings about money, or the fact that our hearts race when we enter a boardroom, we all must try our very best to bring our fundraising ‘A-game,’ to play to win. This means, breathing through the anxiety, giving yourself the pep talk as you ride the subway to the meeting, and imagining yourself grounded and assertive during your pitch. Whether you're making the biggest ask you've ever made, speaking in front of a lecture hall of staring faces, or simply owning that elevator introduction, admit that it's hard, and then do your best anyway.
Odds are, you'll surprise yourself with your ability to dig deep and pull up that inner warrior.
Interested in taking that pitch even further? Contact me for more information or to schedule a consultation at [email protected].
Alicia Jay is the founder and principal of Integrating Change, a non-profit and small business consulting firm based in Brooklyn, NY. She is also a coach and trainer for young activists.