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9 takeaways from the Chamber’s speed pitching for nonprofits event

December 13, 2019 Category: ColumnFeaturedMediumPurpose


Update: Corrects previous headline's use of the acronym for the Chamber. (Dec. 16, 2019 at 11:06 a.m.)
When you are pitching a project to a funder or potential partner there are several key things to remember. Brevity matters. The clarity of your message matters. Effective storytelling matters. And perhaps most important of all, relationships are essential.

These were just a few of the key insights gained by attendees of the Speed-Pitching event I moderated for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Four panelists were invited to share their perspectives on how to pitch an idea, discuss the important aspects of a successful pitch, and give real-time feedback to four local nonprofits who were selected to pitch their next big opportunities.

L to r: Lorina Marshall-Blake, president, Independence Blue Cross Foundation; Damien Ghee, regional vice president, TD Bank; Eleanor Vaida Gerhards, partner, Fox Rothschild LLP; and, Marc Brownstein, president & CEO, Brownstein Group. (Courtesy photos)

The panel included Marc Brownstein, president & CEO, Brownstein Group; Eleanor Vaida Gerhards, partner, Fox Rothschild LLP; Damien Ghee, regional vice president, TD Bank; and Lorina Marshall-Blake, president, Independence Blue Cross Foundation.

The nonprofit attendees selected to pitch their ideas were Wendy Nickel from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance; AnnMarie Schultz from CORA Services; Dan Krause from Hopeworks; and Siah McCabe from the Equity Project.

The projects which were pitched to the panel ranged from a capital campaign for a new building to increased programming, and following the pitches, each panelist was given an opportunity to provide feedback and comments.

The audience was then invited to participate in a Q & A session with the panel, not to pitch their own ideas, but to ask questions about the process itself. This led to a lively discussion, and a number of practical suggestions from the panel. The essential take-aways included the following:

From our Partners

  1. Keep the pitch short and simple. You may only have a few minutes to grab the attention of your audience.
  2. Be able to succinctly describe your nonprofit’s mission, and what makes your organization uniquely positioned to provide the services you do.
  3. Make your case clear and compelling.  Panelists mentioned the need to feel a sense of urgency about the project.
  4. The Philadelphia area is very relationship-oriented, and some amazing resources exist in the corporate sector – especially within the Chamber of Commerce membership. Try to think of ways your nonprofit can leverage community members for partnerships and volunteer projects, and start to build relationships, instead of going in to ask for money before that relationship exists.
  5. Data is great but can often be provided on paper, rather than as part of a spoken pitch. Take advantage of your time in front of someone to tell a brief, compelling story of how what you are doing will impact those you serve.
  6. Tell one client story at the start of a pitch, briefly describe your project, and then tie it together by stating how the new project or program would help people like that client. Use a 30-second video on an iPad if possible, for added impact.
  7. Each panelist mentioned sustainability – indicate if you will collaborate with other partners to maintain the program long-term.
  8. You know a lot about your organization and can get lost in the details of what you do. Practice your pitch with a friend who knows little or nothing about it to see how quickly and clearly you can articulate your message.
  9. Bring in an outside consultant to work with your board on concise mission messaging and storytelling.

Many nonprofits approach pitching a project by reading from a summary of a grant proposal. However, an effective pitch is more of a conversation, and much different than a written proposal.

The pitch may occur after an organization reads such a proposal and invites your nonprofit to tell your story in person, or it may occur during a brief few minutes at a networking event. Either way, you have a finite amount of time to tell a compelling story about what you plan to do, how that plan will impact the clients you serve, and how you’d like the organization to partner with you to see the plan come to fruition.

Make those moments count.

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