Things that really don’t matter in fundraising: Part 4: Your elevator speech

Have you memorized your organization’s “elevator speech”?

No? Congratulations!

You say your organization doesn’t even have an elevator speech?

Even bigger congratulations!

There’s nothing really wrong with an elevator speech. It’s just one of those business practices that some nonprofits have sloppily applied to their world.

It’s for companies that do a lot of selling. They want their employees to turn every human encounter into a sales lead. You can’t fault them for that, even though it’s a little creepy.

It’s supposed to go like this:

You get on an elevator with a stranger. They ask, “What do you do?”

You’re ready with your elevator speech: “I’m a sales rep for Scrofula Manufacturing. We produce custom scrofulous widgets at twice the speed and for half the cost of any other maker.”

If the stranger happens to be in the market for such widgets, you might have an instant sales lead in the space of one elevator ride.

Fine. But what does an elevator speech do for a nonprofit?

In theory, it could do the same thing it does for the widget company. After all, if you’re a fundraising organization, you are sales oriented. (Or you should be.) But you also do something else — your cause.

That’s why most nonprofit elevator speeches don’t go to the top floor.

They just tell people what we do, maybe with a bit of why and how.

Which doesn’t take your listener anyplace you or they want or need to go. At least it’s polite.

If you want to create an elevator speech that matters, work on making it what you can do

It likely won’t get you a donor every time, but at least it would be on the right track.

But in general, time an energy spent creating, spreading, and memorizing an elevator speech is low on the list of effective uses of your time.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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