Note from Beth: Last year at the NTC, I facilitated a plenary session on learning from failure – a topic that I’ve been curating for years and lately, have seen a number of failfests and failcons popping up including these two coming up in November – in NYC and SF. One big nonprofit fail is crafting effective pitches or calls to action that align across a ladder of engagement. Erica Mills has shared this guest post about why some nonprofit pitches fail and some tips on how to fix them. But wait, there’s more.
She is offering to fix your pitch. Put one of your pitches in the comments and/or tweet it using #FixMyPitch. The three pitches that are most in need of fixing will receive a free copy of Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. The pitch most in need of fixing will also get a free Extreme Pitch Makeover phone coaching session with Erica. The results of the Extreme Makeover will be revealed in a follow up post on this blog. Contest ends October 25, 2013, so start pitching!
Are your creepy pitches spooking your supporters? Guest post by Erica Mills
I know we don’t really know each other, but I have a quick favor to ask. Will you buy my book? You can find it on Amazon. I’d really appreciate it.
Why, dear reader, are you not lunging for that link? Stuffing your basket with books? Gobbling up the opportunity like a pint-size princess snarfing Snickers straight from her trick-or-treat bag?
I’ll tell you why: Because we don’t know each other and, as such, my pitch—rather than being engaging—probably seemed creepy. You thought (and rightfully so): “Why is this lady, who I do not know, asking me to buy her book? What’s up with that? Take your creepy pitch elsewhere, lady!”
NEWSFLASH: You have very likely delivered a creepy pitch that is spookily similar to the one above. Maybe it wasn’t you, per se, who penned the pitch, but organizations send out appeal letters all the time that are just as creepy as my request for you to buy my book. It looks something like this:
You know how important our mission is. People in our community benefit from our work every day. Demand for our services has gone up every month for the past 38 months. We need help. Will you make a donation today?
ED of Organization Awesome
Now you might’ve added in a few more stats, maybe even a story or two about the clients you serve, but the fundamental mistake would’ve remained the same: you would’ve done the equivalent of asking someone you barely know to marry you. #Creepy
Creepy is great for a Halloween costume, but not so great for raising funds so you can change the world.
Let’s look at what’s really going on here: You, like most people on a mission to make the world a better place, probably have a pitch. Singular. Only one. You lovingly refer to it as your ‘elevator pitch’. Its job is to close a deal while you glide up and down in an elevator.
How very Mad Men of you. This thinking harkens back to a time when three martini lunches were the norm, women wore pantyhose to work every day, and deals were opened and closed in a single elevator ride. Good times. Happy times (save for the panty hose). But not the times we live in.
Start thinking pitches. Plural. Why plural? Because really what you need are pitches that align with each step along the Engagement Cycle. More ‘door openers’, less ‘deal closers’.
Like MC Hammer (minus the pants), lemme break it down:
1. KNOW: The ‘know’ pitch answers the question: ‘What do you do?’ You want a pitch that is remarkable—meaning interesting enough for people to remark on it to you and (pay attention because this next part is very important in terms of word-of-mouth marketing) to others.
2. UNDERSTAND: Once you’re on someone’s radar, i.e. they know you exist, you need to make sure they really, truly understand what you do and why you do it. Of all the organizations out there, why should they engage with yours? What makes you special? Compelling? Unlike any other? Your ‘understand’ pitch answers these questions. It answers the question: ‘Why you?’
3. ENGAGE: Donate. Advocate. Volunteer. Buy. This pitch answers the question: ‘How can I engage?’ This is the pitch that moves people from learning to doing.
[NOTE: For all your pitches, you absolutely, positively must avoid jargon and the word ‘provide.’ That is non-negotiable.]
Most people’s elevator pitch tries to mush all three of these pitches into one. And, worse yet, many only have an engage pitch. No knowing. No understanding. How can that be? Easy. You live and breathe your mission. You know its every nook and cranny. As such, you think to yourself, “How can other people not know about our work? How can they not understand the awesomeness that is our mission? How can they not see that the only logical thing to do is give us scads of money?! Egads, what is wrong with these people?!!!!!”
What’s ‘wrong’ with these people is they have other stuff going on. Kids to pick up. Dogs to feed. Wine to sip. Meals to make. On a daily basis, your mission is not their tippy top priority.
Getting and staying on people’s radar takes time, energy and patience. But take heart: if to know you is to love you, imagine what will happen when someone knows AND understands you. It’ll be a love-fest that’ll make even Romeo & Juliette jealous. Your patience will pay off.
To avoid creepy pitching, map out how you are going to gently, yet purposefully, move each group (e.g. newsletter subscribers, event attendees, one-time donors, monthly donors, etc) along the engagement cycle throughout the course of the year. The cycle should start at ‘know’ and work its way through a lot of understanding before any talk of engaging.
Be honest as you do your mapping. For instance, just because someone came to your annual fundraiser, that doesn’t mean they really, truly know you. Most people attend events because their friend invited them, not because they care about your cause. (Sorry, buzz kill. I know.) People at events spend a lot of time catching up with friends and catching up on email. You have to give them lots of opportunities throughout the year to get to know and understand you.
Know. Understand. Engage. In that order.
Is this pitching stuff easy? No. I do it for a living. I’m a consultant and university professor who specializes in pitching, for crying out loud, and I still mess up! You will, too. Failing is healthy and it’s part of the deal. When in doubt, take a failure bow and move on. Hopefully, the know, understand, engage approach will make ditching creepy pitching a little less scary.
ABOUT THE #FIXMYPITCH CONTEST
Still stuck on how to fix your pitches? Put one of your pitches in the comments and/or tweet it using #FixMyPitch. The three pitches that are most in need of fixing will receive a free copy of Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. The pitch most in need of fixing will also get a free Extreme Pitch Makeover phone coaching session with Erica. The results of the Extreme Makeover will be revealed in a follow up post on this blog. Contest ends October 25, 2013, so start pitching!
Erica is an internationally recognized expert on how to use words to make the world a better place. She heads up Claxon, a company on a mission to teach those doing good how to get noticed. She is on faculty at the University of Washington and Seattle University, and has lectured at the University of Chicago. Mills is a lover of words in general, and verbs and adverbs in particular.