This article is an expansion from an article originally posted in our March/April edition of the Nonprofit Hub Magazine. This is the first in a five part series on overcoming the struggles of starting a nonprofit organization.
So, you’re starting a new organization and a community member or colleague stops you one day and wants to know more about it. What you are going to say?
Quick, you only have a few seconds—be sure you know how to talk about your nonprofit in the time it takes to ride a few floors. It’s called an elevator speech, and whether you’re at a formal networking event or you run into someone casually, you should have a quick spiel prepared that casts a clear and accurate vision for your nonprofit as well as what you hope to accomplish. Especially if you’re trying to drum up support (financial or otherwise), you want to be able to easily articulate your nonprofit’s vision and goals without stumbling over your words or tripping over your thoughts.
The quickest way to create disinterest is to have a fuzzy vision for your new organization and confuse people as to why you’re starting it. Who’d want to get behind a project that’s unclear, abstract and simply not compelling? Remember this: People invest in people who have a clear and focused vision of what they want to accomplish.
Once you have that, it’s important then to then be able to communicate what it is quickly and succinctly. Hear are six steps to developing a compelling elevator speech for your organization’s vision.
1. Practice. Write it out, change it up, say it out loud—the more you practice your mini speech, the better you’ll be at delivering it.
2. But be conversational. You don’t want to sound wooden or rehearsed—you want to be passionate and speak naturally about your new endeavor. The key is to practice, but to avoid memorization so you don’t sound like you’re scripted. Keep your spiel as conversational and spontaneous as possible. Just be prepared.
3. Keep it simple. Speak English, not industry speak. Stay away from acronyms and terminology that people outside your area of expertise or cause wouldn’t understand. Your vision will only be compelling if people understand it.
4. Think “what” and “why.” Give the basic facts, not all the minute details. You should cover what you believe your organization can accomplish, how you plan to go about it and why it’s important.
5. Tell a story. Once you cover the facts, put a face to your organization by sharing a story about the people who inspired you to get started. How did you recognize a need for this new organization? Did you help someone in the community? Did someone help you? Whose needs are you trying to meet? A quick story will humanize your organization immediately.
6. Project confidence. There are three easy things you can do to project confidence, even if you’re not feeling it: Stand tall. Give a good firm handshake. Make eye contact. It’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. You may feel a little intimidated when you first begin to explain your organization’s vision, especially if you’re wondering how receptive people will be. The old adage, “fake it till you make it” can apply here if you’re feeling less than 100% sure.
Just remember: Keep your vision talk (and your actual vision statement) clear, straightforward and concise. The key is to stay focused, honing in on exactly what you want to accomplish. When you have a clear understanding of what your vision is, then—and only then—will you be able to recruit partners, supporters and community members who understand and share your passion.