This time of year is perfect for being outdoors and reminds me of one of my family’s favorite pastimes – baseball. My nephew, Alexander (pictured), is now learning to play, and I recently got a chance to help him practice and watch a game. At practice, he was struggling with hitting the ball, and I finally realized his error – he wasn’t watching the ball. He was watching everything but the ball – his teammates clowning around, the pitcher, the audience – and got lost in all the chaos. When I taught him to focus on the ball and only the ball, he hit it almost every time AND got three runs in the game.

Another reason I like late spring is that it is time for the Social Impact Exchange’s Business Plan Competition and Annual Conference in New York City. We are honored to be one of the judges for the business plan competition next week. I love learning about new ideas and new ways to approach them. But, it occurred to me that many nonprofits make the same mistake in their pitches as Alexander. They get lost in the chaos – judges, the other contestants and even their own messaging.

As someone who has given and seen many pitches, here are some helpful hints:

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: We’ve all been there. Someone is describing their organization, and although they understand it, we don’t. As some would say, they “drank their own Kool-Aid” – their use of insider language detracts from their explanation.  To prevent this, break down your message into the simplest terms, so everyone will understand. Avoid grant language in particular, which is only familiar to insiders. In our storytelling training, we encourage participants to focus on one simple message: “How do you impact human life?”

Pictures Are Worth a Thousand Words: PowerPoint is meant to be a backdrop and not the main feature. As the speaker, you are the main attraction. People have a hard time listening to the speaker and reading slides at the same time. Don’t make them try. Use PowerPoint to illustrate the main point of your message – only share data or a picture to drive a point home.

Number Sense: As we have said, the new bottom line of the social sector is impact, and impact is best shown through numbers. However, we have seen some really bad attempts lately of well-meaning organizations that lose their audience by throwing out numbers without explaining their significance or relevance. In pitches, only use data that matters and always interpret the meaning for the audience.

Know Your Audience: We typically recommend a 2x2 approach. First, we endorse two versions of a pitch deck – a visual version (for when someone is walking through it) AND a visual + explanation version (for when it is sent via email). Some investors want to check you out first before allowing you to pitch, so both are necessary. Secondly, unique to the social sector, we suggest creating two versions for stating your value proposition: a socially oriented version for foundations and government and a business-oriented one for entrepreneurs and companies.

Connect the Dots: Pitches need to flow from point to point, slide to slide. A pitch should answer a logical series of questions. For example: What is the problem? What is your solution? Why are you the right organization to solve it? How much impact will you have? By doing so, your story will follow an arc and keep your audience interested. Be sure to connect your points together so they build to a crescendo, with supporting evidence at the end.

Best of luck on your pitches – remember to focus on the right messaging, practice and remember to have fun. If you follow these tips, we are confident in your ability to hit it out of the park!

If you have pitched your organization and have additional ideas, we would love to hear about them. If you are interested in seeing some superior pitches, last year’s entrants to the Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition are online. Tune in next week for the second part of this series on the prospectus – a new written tool to pitch your social sector organization.

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