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An oldie but goodie… ‘elevator pitches’ and how to position your organisation – Part 1

10/03/2011

Over two years ago now I wrote a blog around the idea of charities developing smarter ‘elevator pitches’ to be able to get across the essence of what they do more succinctly. The comments generated across the original article and the forums it was posted to were a mixture of

  • ‘we should be clearer and more concise’, and
  • ‘get that nasty commercial sector thinking away from me!’

Recently, I’ve seen lots of tweets around the subject of positioning organisations (ie; proper branding) along with several articles (check out this one and this one) which rightly question just how much or how little revenue value is actually added by such branding exercises.

So, here’s the original article and there will be another post hot on its heels to develop the case more broadly for branding in charities…

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It’s a wonderfully trite descriptor but the elevator pitch is still a useful tool to help us all focus on what we do from the perspective of the audience we want to communicate with.  In a nutshell, the elevator pitch is simply a short statement that describes to a stranger what your organisation does, how you do it, why you are good at it and who else agrees with you.

How good is your elevator pitch?

How good is your elevator pitch?

Short enough to be shared during an elevator journey and pithy enough to leave your audience completely clear about what your organisation is all about.

The concept has long been used as a sales tool in the corporate world when dealing with busy clients and prospects.  In fact, the world’s best sales people will spend hours refining their ‘pitch’ to glean maximum impact in the minimum time.  However, in an increasingly media-saturated world with more choice and competition than ever for disposable incomes (and grants and trusts) there is also a huge relevance for charities.

So how good is your organisation’s elevator pitch?

You probably have a mission, core purpose, values and strategic aims but could you articulate them to a stranger in less than 3 minutes?  Many gurus on the subject believe that the best approach is to tell a story which engages the audience by giving enough information to pique curiosity whilst providing evidence for the claims being made.

Here’s a quick example I found for an organisation which actually sells creating elevator pitches as its core service.  When asked what his company did, the Director answered;

“I’m in the corporate story-telling business. ABC ltd specialise in helping clients figure out exactly how to tell their story in a way that will compel customers to buy.  Human beings — you, me, your customers — connect better when the message is in story form. If you want your customers to listen, and want what you’re offering, you’ve got to capture them with a story. And we’ve helped clients like Charles Schwab and Warner Bros. increase their lead conversion rate by up to 25 percent with a story we’ve helped them craft. What’s your company’s story?”

This example is lauded as successful for the following reasons:

  • It offers a more natural and personable response to the “so, what do you do for a living” question
  • It qualifies the central claim by explaining the issue in both a human and a business context
  • It lacks jargon and buzzwords so is easy to understand
  • At the end, it asks an open question of the listener which is one of the best ways to engage your audience (particularly if your job is to help create better answers to that very question!)

Could you tell an equally focused and balanced story about your organisation?

I think this concept is useful in the charity sector to both underpin corporate fundraising as well as general communications activity.  Several charities already have good elevator pitches and The RSPCA and NSPCC spring immediately to mind.  Their clarity of purpose and established track record must make writing their pitch relatively simple.  But for the rest of us, here are my tips for creating your own, valuable elevator pitch:

  • Put yourself immediately in the mindset of your audience ie; don’t assume they know anything about what you do or how you do it
  • List out the end benefits of your activities, not the activities themselves.  For example, health charities may campaign and lobby on behalf of people with a particular condition but what they are actually doing is perhaps “helping society understand XXX to ensure people with XXX get a fairer deal from government and the public”
  • Focus on one or two core benefits.  Employ a wordsmith if necessary but you need to find a way of articulating your services in the collective, not individually
  • Only use lay terms and avoid jargon altogether
  • Include evidence to back up your claims.  This might be the number of people you’ve helped, how long you’ve been established, awards you have won for your work (from the recipient’s perspective, not the sector’s)
  • Make it no more than one paragraph long
  • Give it to your best friend, partner, mum, postman or other unconnected person and ask them what they think it means.  If it aligns with what you wanted, great!

As a little bit of holiday fun, try and find your organisation’s elevator pitch or, if you don’t have one, draft a quick paragraph.  Then, look at your marketing materials, campaigns, Impact Reports etc and try to find it in there.  Does the message come through loud and clear?  If it does, your organisation has a clarity of purpose on which all your communications are being built and your target audiences will be receiving consistent messages about what you do.  If not, what kind of story are you telling?  Is it as compelling as it could be or do you have multiple stories which could simply confuse your audiences?

Let me know how you get on!

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Original posted on UKFundraising blogs 24th December 2008.

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