You’re in the lobby of an office building waiting for an elevator to take you to the tenth floor.
The doors open and you step inside.
In the elevator with you is one other person. She just happens to be the perfect candidate for a long-term donor to your organization.
But she doesn’t know that yet. She’s never heard of you, your organization, or your cause.
You know that you have only the time it takes until those doors open at the tenth floor -- maybe even sooner -- to introduce her to your organization and cause AND convince her to make a contribution before she walks away forever.
This rapid-fire pitch is called an elevator pitch.
And much like trying to make a solid sales pitch to someone in a minute or less on an elevator, you need to be able to make an equally solid pitch as fast in your letters.
On average, humans read at speeds of around 200 words per minute. With around 200-300 words per page, your donors -- if they are reading every word -- are taking a minute to a minute and a half max to read each page of your fundraising letter.
But donors don’t read every word. They scan. It’s likely they’re perusing your letters even faster than a minute per page.
Pretend your letter is your elevator and your potential donor is only going to stick with you for the next 60 seconds while you make your case. And in that 60 seconds, you need to explain who you are, what your organization does, and why she should become a contributor.
That’s hard to do in an elevator face to face -- in a letter it might seem next to impossible.
But it isn’t. And it’s something you MUST be able to do to grab the attention of a new donor.
As hard as this task may seem, you probably already know the key features of an effective short pitch. Just ask yourself what someone would have to say to you in one minute to make you want to know more about the nonprofit.
For me it starts imagining I’m the potential donor, and the first thing I want to know is “who are you” and “what do you do?”
You could launch into a list of objectives, a formal mission statement, and bombard me with facts about your charity -- but although those facts are important, if I’m being honest, they don’t answer the question I’m really asking.
What I really want to know is who you help. Who does your organization serve? Why do those people need help? What your organization does to fix those problems? What will happen if your organization wasn’t helping these people?
And most importantly, what does this work mean to the people who need your help? If I choose to contribute, what will my donation really do for those in need?
I can’t stress enough the importance of making an emotional connection between your cause and your donor. This is the foundation of your elevator pitch.
Knowing that, a great elevator pitch for your nonprofit might begin with introducing me to your cause, not your organization. If your organization raises money to provide new books for elementary schools in low-income areas, maybe say something like this:
Did you know right now in this country there are 93 million adults who can’t read a book? They can’t read an adult novel for fun. They can’t read important tax documents, simple instructions for putting something together -- nothing. Can you imagine trying to do your job -- to do ANY job -- without being able to read?
93 MILLION adults? I had no idea. How are 93 MILLION adult Americans functioning in society while illiterate? How are there so many illiterate adults in this country in 2017?
You have my attention. And nice touch asking me questions -- now you’ve invited me to interact with you and asked me to really think about this issue and how it affects people.
Well, we know it starts early. As many as 64% of fourth graders in this country already can’t read at grade level -- and all because these children don’t have books. Their parents don’t have them at home, and their schools don’t have the money to make sure every child has new and updated readers to learn from.
We work to provide children from low-income families and schools the books they need to become successful adults -- we raise funds to buy wonderful books for their libraries, brand new textbooks, and we fund book fairs and programs for schools that get kids excited about reading. When children learn to read and love to read, it opens up the entire world for them: opportunities for a better education, a good career, and sets them up to have a comfortable and happy life with their families.
In these two statements, I now know who you are, what you do, why you need to do it, how awful the problem of childhood illiteracy is, and what your organization specifically does to fix it. I also know that because of your work, these children will have the brighter future they deserve.
I also know from your language, your tone, and the way you talk about this cause that YOU are in it with all of your heart. And your enthusiasm for these kids is contagious.
That’s what you need to do with your elevator pitch. Be excited. Be passionate. Trigger my emotions. Tell me where my donation will go, how much it means for these kids’ futures -- make me feel like the most important thing I can do that day is contribute your nonprofit and end childhood illiteracy.