I’ve been spending an embarrassing amount of time watching ABC’s “Shark Tank” recently. But maybe I shouldn’t be ashamed—it’s inherently entertaining television. If you’re unfamiliar, Shark Tank features hopeful entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to a panel of renowned business leaders. Members of the panel can then choose to invest or not invest in the proposed business. It makes for mindless, casual viewing, but for the guests on the show the stakes are high. After all, this is their idea, their brain-child, their life.
At the center of Shark Tank is a pretty simple question: How can entrepreneurs convince the panel to believe in their idea? Or, at the least, how can they convince them that it’s potentially lucrative? It’s a question on the minds of thousands of small businesses, startup tech companies and—yes—nonprofits.
Nonprofit professionals may not be asking for million-dollar investments from the likes of Mark Cuban, but they’re still on a mission to convince the community that their cause is worth something. Almost every nonprofit experiences this, whether they’re applying for grant funding, asking for donations or recruiting board members. People won’t invest their time or money in something they don’t believe in. So, how can you get them to believe?
If I’ve learned one thing from watching Shark Tank, it’s that investors want to know in very specific terms the plans for budgeting, expansion, operations—everything. They aren’t willing to fork up thousands, sometimes millions of dollars for a vague business plan. If you’re trying to convince donors to give or volunteers to serve, the same specificity is required.
Here are some important questions you should be prepared to answer:
- How is your organization funded (donations, grants, earned income, etc.), and how will it be funded in future?
- How many staff members do you have? What are their roles?
- What will my donation help you do (again, be as specific as possible)?
Be original (or better than the original)
It’s every entrepreneur’s dream to come up with an idea no one’s thought of before. But in the 21st Century it’s becoming harder and harder to create something completely new—so much has already been tried, successfully or not. If you can find that unoccupied niche for your cause, that’s great! However, you should also consider the way you go about achieving your mission, even if it’s shared by dozens of other organizations. Maybe you’re funded differently, or you allocate that funding differently, or you have a different idealistic approach to your work. Whatever it is, make sure your potential supporters know that you’re going about your work in a unique way.
Put your idea in real terms
It’s no secret that telling stories to communicate your impact is a valuable strategy—stories are essentially the foundation of modern content marketing.
It’s been scientifically proven that reading and hearing stories can increase empathy, so use them to your advantage. Tell your supporters about a child who benefited from your services, or a formerly homeless person who was able to find a job through your work placement program. If you turn your impact into narratives, it becomes real and palpable.
You can tell impact stories a number of ways: in a blog post, newsletter or social media post, or just via word-of-mouth at your fundraisers and throughout the community.
Getting people to believe in anything is hard, and getting people to give their money to something they believe is harder still. But if you’re serious about your cause, you’ll find a way, and these tips will help you get there.