The Elevator Pitch For Mission-Driven News Nonprofits

(Former INN Executive Director Kevin Davis offered this advice in a 2012 blog.)

You’ve heard this premise before: You’re standing in front of an elevator and, as the doors open, in front of you is the key individual that you’ve tried for months to get on the phone.

Once you’re in the elevator you realize you have only 30 to 60 seconds to make the right impression and get him or her to take note.

While this scenario may not play itself out quite as dramatically in the real world, as nonprofit news executives we often find ourselves in situations where we have to articulate what we do, why we do it, and why anyone else should care – and we have to do it quickly.

There are many articles available to business executives, entrepreneurs and sales professionals with tips on how to deliver the perfect elevator pitch (read herehere and here for a few examples).

However, a nonprofit leader has the added complexity of having to articulate the unique qualities and value of his or her mission-driven organization to a wider range of constituents including foundations, corporate underwriters, advertisers and, of course, members of the audience that you serve.

In “The Art of the Elevator Pitch: 10 Great Tips,” Audrey Watters succinctly lays out the attributes of a successful elevator pitch for business professionals. Here’s my modified version for nonprofit news executives:

  • Brevity – While we all love to talk about how we got here, that’s not the purpose of the pitch. Keep your focus on what your organization is doing.
  • The Headline – In order to entice someone to want to dig in further, you must grab his or her attention (hint: it isn’t, “Do you know how many journalists have been laid off?”). Instead, focus on the need for your organization and how you are uniquely positioned to meet that need.
  • Pitch your organization, not yourself – You are running an organization with a mission bigger than yourself, make sure the person standing across the elevator understands this.
  • Don’t forget the “ask” – You want something. They know that. Be as articulate in what you want from someone as you are in articulating the need.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details – We all have a tendency to pile on and share everything. People don’t have the attention span or the will to sift through multiple data points to understand what you are asking and whether it really is important to them.
  • Practice – If this is not natural to you, you are not alone. What separates good communicators from the rest is the apparent ease of delivery. Make sure you are well practiced in your pitch for all your potential types of targets.
  • Follow-up consistently – Once you’ve made a good impression, you’ll want to follow up with an email. Make sure the two communications are consistent.
  • Pivot – Remember to evolve your thinking and your presentation as your organization matures.
  • Get your voice out there – There are lots of opportunities from INN and other like-minded organizations to share your knowledge and display your thought leadership. Individuals who receive your pitch will likely Google you and your organization. Make sure that they can find you and validate the newly-minted impression of you as a leader in your field.
  • Listen – Ultimately, the only way to know if you’re being successful in your pitch is to hear feedback. Having been delivered your pitch, your target individual is likely to say things that will help you.