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  • Writer's pictureAcademy Street Workshop

Elevator Pitch My Ass

If there is one thing that we in the charity sector are worse at than actually asking for money its telling people why we exist in the first place.

We really are terrible at talking about ourselves.

and I have proof.

Over the last 6 years we've had almost 100 different charities apply to be part of our events all of whom had to fill out an application form which included the question.

"In less than 50 words tell us what your organistion does."

Now while the standard of the response varied a lot and some applicants were writing from scratch while others were able to copy and paste from their website I can honestly say that none of the answers gave me a clear sense of what the organisation does or what they were trying to achieve.

And I wanted to know.

Maybe the question is too vague and maybe 50 words is too short a space to answer it but I don't think either of those matters.

We should be able to get the essence of who we are, why we exist and what we're trying to achieve across in just a few lines.

*Admission* - I'm as guilty of this as anybody, I struggle to capture the passion, motivation and work of my organisation in a few words - but I'm working hard at it.

So why do we struggle so much?

Well in my humble opinion its fear.

Fear of leaving something out.

Fear of saying too little.

I was half listening to the radio last week and some sports manager was talking about a bit of advice he received from an older manager when he was starting off.

He asked him had he thought about what he was going to say to the team before the match.

He said he had and showed the older man the page of notes he'd made.

The older manager asked him when he'd written them

"On the bus" was the reply

"and how many main points are there?"

"10 or 11"

"and why did you write them down?"

"So I'd remember them all"

"How do you expect the players to remember them if you had to write them down and they were your thoughts?"

He reduced them to 3 main points - and didn't write them down

I think that often in the charity sector we're a bit like the inexperienced manager and we treat supporters, donors and the general public like a team that maybe we're afraid of letting down.

We tell them about the history of the organisation

The year we were founded

That we're a voluntary organisation (I don't know what that means)

That we have this main project that's broken down into these 3 areas

We have another project that came from the main project

There's a third project that we are working on in partnership with another organisation (in other words there was funding available for it)

and now there's this fourth project we'd like to do because it'll be great and we'd really like some money to help us roll it out.

Now if we've had some training we might add in a 'story' about somebody who has used our service or benefited from our project but in all honesty most of these stories just end up being a list of all the different projects that we have that this person used and how she thinks we're great and now volunteers in the office.

Now if you've had some more training you might have all this down into an 'elevator pitch'.

and here you really lose me.

First off I live in Ireland, it's very rare that you're ever in an elevator going more than 4 floors.

We don't really talk that much in elevators - especially not to strangers - beyond a mumbled hello and isn't it hot/cold/windy outside. So it's pretty un-bloody-likely that you're all of a sudden going to jump into a perfectly honed pitch and deliver it in the 10 seconds before you arrive at your floor.

The other thing is that elevator pitches are really designed for sales people and we're not in sales (join an orderly queue to argue with me here)

Sales is all about: I have this cool product/service, I think you'd like it, will you buy it?

I apologise to all the sales people out there because I know it's not that simple but thisn't a sales blog.

Charity and by extension fundraising isn't about sales. It's about problems, risks, answers and solutions. 

There is a problem in the world

Unless somebody does something about it there is a huge risk

We have an answer to this problem

Do you want to be part of the solution?

Now I could probably barely say that much in a typical Irish elevator so lets just throw out any intention to say things in as few words as possible and focus on saying why we exist with passion and clarity.

Does anybody care when you were founded?


But they care why. - Did your founder meet a homeless person and decide to help them? or did you visit a home for the disabled and see somebody struggling without the right resources?

Does anybody care about your projects?


But they care about the problem they are trying to solve - and the risk of them not being solved

Does anybody care about how much a volunteer might have enjoyed the projects you run?


But they care about the change you've made in their life and what would happen if you weren't there.

Do they care about the new project you want to roll out?


But if you tell them about a problem that you think you have an answer to they might want to be the solution.

This is all very simplistic to say and as I'll freely admit it's very hard to put into practice. But when you do it right it's amazing.

Does anybody remember this Greenpeace video?

It is very hard to watch it without getting emotional.

And it's about a boat

And it's a fundraising ask

But it is dripping with Why They Exist and not listing all the daily tasks that the staff on Rainbow Warrior do.

Anyway do I have a suggestion to solve this problem?

What can we all do to get better at talking about ourselves?

Well I have a few ideas but for now let's start with a question.

In 50 words or less tell me "Why does your organisation exist?" - Write your answer in a comment section.


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