The Elevator Speech that Doesn’t Get to the Top Floor

You know the mythical elevator speech? It’s that 30-second rundown of what you are your company does that you would give if you talked to strangers on elevators.

Tom Ahern, writing at Asking Matters (Make an Elevator Speech that Works), describes an exercise he does with nonprofit people where they write their own elevator speeches. The result is discouraging:

Ninety-nine times out of 100, the person delivering her elevator speech never mentions the donor. The donor plays no role at all in the elevator speech.

So true. So painfully true. And I wish it were only true of elevator speeches. Truth is, donors are absent from almost all things nonprofits say about themselves. From mission statements to annual reports, donors are rarely glimpsed. Even a lot of fundraising manages to avoid mentioning donors.

It’s all about what they do, how they do it, and how effective they are at it. Usually in their own internal and impenetrable jargon.

There’s no problem with that if you don’t need donors to fund your work (the Gates Foundation comes to mind). But if you need donors, you really ought to proclaim it. Why should anyone care how cool you are — unless they are part of the coolness?

A homeless shelter might say it like this: We make it possible for generous people in our community to help the homeless get off the streets — permanently.

If you think properly about donor and their importance, you’ll naturally start revising your elevator speech and everything else.



About Gary Coiro

Nonprofit & Church Leader Nonprofit Leader and Consultant since 2004, following 15 years as a pastor. Competencies include board development, fundraising, staff development and management, strategic planning, church work, Bible teaching, and capital campaigns. Currently consulting and serving on the Church Ministries Management Team for a large multi-cultural evangelical church.
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