Don’t panic when it’s time to pitch (Elevator pitch, that is)

Over a decade ago, when Parisleaf was a new agency, I found myself face-to-face with a very influential businessperson. I was a little star-struck  — as an entrepreneur, I was always excited to meet successful business people, especially someone with this much status in the community. 

To my surprise, he asked me to introduce myself to an office full of people. “Listen up. Chad here is going to tell you about his new business.” …I crumbled. 

Rather than capitalize on this awesome opportunity to showcase Parisleaf and talk about our mission, I panicked, fumbled through my own elevator pitch – crashed and burned. Hard. 

Word salad, I believe is what they call it. People awkwardly just got back to work as my words trailed off – knowing we’ve all been there.

Thanks to that awkward experience, I vowed never again and focused on how to make a finely-tuned elevator pitch. Because I have seen first-hand the difference one can make. Such a simple thing, yet why is it so hard?

It’s not just about showing up prepared and rehearsed so you can avoid an awkward situation. There’s so much more to it than that. 

An elevator pitch is a golden opportunity to get your organization’s mission into the heads of the right audience. A quick sentence or two — a few seconds — in front of the right donors can be a game changer for your capital campaign. 

But what is an elevator pitch for a capital campaign? 

An elevator pitch is a short statement you can have at the ready for any situation. Typically 15 seconds or less, it’s aptly named because you only have a short window of opportunity on an elevator ride, where you may find yourself sharing space with an influential person. 

A successful elevator pitch has to start with the most ideal audience. It’s never about you. And it’s not about everyone. That’s the first place that elevator pitches fail – stop trying to be everything to everyone. 

Everything to everyone = nothing to no one. 

Next up, focus on impact. Once you’ve figure out who your ideal audience and what impact you hope to create, , you need to clarify your campaign’s  why. Why is this campaign important? Why me? Why now? 

Lastly, you need to have a razor sharp pencil to land on how. How will you accomplish the goal? 

And you need to do all of this in as few words as possible. The fewer words it takes, the more memorable it will be. The end result should be concise, poetic, meaningful. Intentional. Words by design. A statement that explains exactly what your campaign is about. One that lands.

Who + how + why = what. And “what” = Elevator Pitch 

It’s a surprisingly complex process for such a simple formula.

Make every word count. If it’s fluff, throw it out.

Why it’s essential to knock your pitch out of the park. 

Your capital campaign needs a cohesive elevator pitch. The elevator pitch takes everything we’ve talked about throughout the campaign phases and combines it into one statement. 

The right elevator pitch attracts people to your organization, builds confidence in your mission, and offers clarity about what you will accomplish. 

Every pitch creates an opportunity – it attracts the right people and deters the wrong ones. AND THAT’S OKAY. You never know who you’ll find yourself in a room with. Sometimes, it’s potential donors, or a new candidate for that position you’ve been trying to fill. Maybe you’re at a charity gala, and a friend of a friend happens to know the right people. 

Almost everyone involved in your campaign will find themselves in need of an elevator pitch at some point. Your campaign leadership, nonprofit leadership, board members, development officers, and donors will all be in situations where networking matters. Connections are everywhere. Elevator pitches are vital because they give you a framework to get the word out in any situation, in a succinct manner. And the best elevator pitches work seamlessly alongside your brand to make your campaign unforgettable.

Why are elevator pitches so hard to write? 

While it might seem relatively easy to throw together an elevator pitch for your campaign, we promise it is not. Elevator pitches are tough to formulate because every word matters. There’s no room for fillers or background context. Your pitch must be polished, precise, and succinct. 

There are some common mistakes you can avoid when working on your pitch:

  1. Neglecting your strategy 

To land on a polished elevator pitch, you need to have clarity from your strategy. Without it, your lack of direction will be like throwing spaghetti at the wall. Your strategy is the foundation for the whole pitch — who you are talking to and why? Your elevator pitch may not be interesting or valuable to people outside your target audience, and that’s ok. Not everyone needs to be engaged with your organization, but a solid pitch will stop the right people in their tracks.  

2. Overlooking word choice 

There’s no margin for error. Each word must serve a purpose, otherwise, it doesn’t belong in your pitch. Be meticulous in your selection to ensure you say exactly what you mean. That way, your audience will hear the message you want to convey.

3. Forgetting to revise and refine 

This goes hand in hand with overlooking your word choice. Your need to  plan for many iterations before it’s clear, succinct, and resonant with your audience. Don’t be afraid to test it out, revise it, and refine it. Over time, you’ll see what lands best. 

4. This isn’t the time to wax poetic

Drop the industry jargon and the poetry. I get it – you’re smart. And you know your stuff, but a lot of your audience doesn’t know your campaign or industry the way you will. If you notice a majority of the right people scratching their heads after listening to your elevator pitch, go back to the previous step. You’re talking over people’s heads.

5. Easy enough for a 10-year-old

Your pitch should be simple enough that your 10-year-old won’t have to break out the dictionary. Back to the drawing/whiteboard!

6. Overlooking brevity 

Brevity is key with an elevator pitch. Even carefully chosen words can become a novella if there’s too many of them. Be sure when you are refining that you are also keeping the overall length in mind. Keep it to two short sentences, max. No commas. No cheating. Otherwise, you won’t be sharing your campaign elevator pitch; you’ll instead be sharing your case statement. 

7. Not including your team 

Lastly, once you’ve got your pitch, train your entire team. Yes, the leadership is key here, but every person who touches your campaign should know and understand the elevator pitch. This means external communication will be extraordinarily consistent and always on message, and you will build a shared understanding of the mission internally. 

Few things are more important than good communication in any aspect of life. Your capital or comprehensive campaign’s elevator pitch is no different.

Convey your elevator pitch internally for the best result externally. 

The perfect elevator pitch takes time and effort. 

How can you craft a perfect pitch? The short answer is that, unlike an elevator pitch, there is no short answer. It takes time, effort, and skill to write a concise and meaningful summation of the who, why, how and ultimately what of your campaign. 

Take our Parisleaf pitch. Over a decade ago, our elevator pitch had no consistency, no framework, and unnecessary words. Now we have our mission, vision, and values all wrapped up in one sentence: 

We are the brand & digital partner that specializes in capital campaigns for nonprofits.

This summary gets the message across, both on paper and out loud. The elements work together to explain exactly what we do in a way that connects with our intended audience and their motivations. Every word was carefully chosen — even “the” — because it’s part of our brand’s essence. Our sole focus is branding capital campaigns. No other agency claims that as their singular specialty. The word “partner” comes from our Purpose statement, or our why: “We believe money is mission fuel in the right hands. We are the right hand to the right hands.” 

Even the words that aren’t there matter, like “comprehensive”. Sure, we work on comprehensive campaigns – it’s 50% of our work for fundraising campaigns, but our research showed that most people in the nonprofit arena see the term “comprehensive campaign” as synonymous with “capital campaign”, so we chose the most commonly used term. 

Additionally, this elevator pitch may make some prospects think we don’t do brand & digital for nonprofits themselves – also, not true. What we found in our research and strategy was that there are tons of brand & digital agencies out there that work with nonprofits, but very few that help with their capital (or comprehensive) campaigns. More so, that when nonprofits launch a capital campaign, they rebrand shortly thereafter. Hence, the word “partner”. And on we go. Make. Every. Word. Count. 

We didn’t get to that result overnight, we worked hard on our elevator pitch, and we think you should, too. Your elevator pitch should neatly package your whole campaign into one succinct statement. A great pitch must set the tone for your campaign, present a united image to your audience, and set you up for success. It’s hard to do well, but it’s well worth the effort. 

To craft the best version of your campaign’s elevator pitch, you must understand your strategy and focus on your audience. And if you need guidance distilling your campaign into a compelling pitch you can confidentially share with anyone at any time, we’d love to talk.

Chad Paris

Chad Paris

Principal, CEO
The perfect marriage of strategist, consultant, & rainmaker. Chad loves connecting good people with other good people. He has dedicated his career to brands that are changing the world by helping nonprofits fund progress while also advancing Purpose in the workplace.