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The Paradox Of The Nonprofit Pitch

 

 

There we were. Put on the spot by the corporate CEO's challenge. Or was it a dare? To tell him what our nonprofit did in three words. No more. No less. Flustered and tongue-tied, we found ourselves floundering to quickly edit our official and rather verbose mission statement. In. Three Words.

 

Our management team had spent several sessions spread over several months producing this "perfect" mission statement. We drafted copious versions. Debated its merits. Parsed each word. Expanded it. Shortened it. Finished it. Polished it. Memorized it. Recited it in unison.

 

And now, in our time of need, it was utterly useless.

 

We left the CEO's office embarrassed and slightly enraged. Tell him what our nonprofit did in three words? No more? No less? You've got to be kidding. Down deep, we were disappointed and dejected over our inability to deliver that elusive encapsulated pitch.

 

What's up with the nonprofit pitch anyway? Much less the Vision Statement. Mission Statement. Tagline. BHAG. Brand. Elevator speech. So forth and so on. It seems every nonprofit is on the quintessential quest to assemble and align all of these in a perfect constellation. Each one should be spot-on. Cleverly worded. Able to be recalled at any hour of the day by your nonprofit's rank and file. Most importantly, each must be easily grasped by the masses.

 

Indeed, the nonprofit pitch is an imperative identifier when engaging with the public. With it we define, delineate and differentiate our organization when compared with peers in the same social sector field. Grant it, it is a necessary marketing tool to pique the curiosity, grab the attention and whet the appetite of the next potential donor, future supporter, or prospective champion of our cause. And in a world with an ever-shortening attention span and absolutely no tolerance for run-on sentences, the best nonprofit pitch has to be a carefully curated, crafted sound bite. In three words. No more. No less. These are all plausible and practical reasons to pour sweat equity into developing a pitch portfolio. Geared for outside consumption.

 

But the inward reasons to develop the pitch are not as obvious. These are often missed, glossed over and left by the wayside as we develop the statements outward. It is a paradox that the better and best utility of the nonprofit pitch is demonstrated each time we pitch it inwardly. Back to ourselves.

 

Each time we do this, it is utterly useful.

 

You're doing good if everyone in your nonprofit can recite the pitch, word-for-word. You're doing better if each one is rewarded for reflecting on the pitch. Taking it to heart, head and hand. Paying attention to its content and consequences. At this convergence, the inward pitch becomes a reality check like none other. There is no better way to mitigate mission creep. No better measure to steer, sustain or save the soul of a social sector organization. When appropriated verbatim and vicariously by your nonprofit team, the pitch becomes a fierce force to contend with. Or, as a wise friend of mine once observed, an inward "contagion for good." It propels. Pulsates. Persists, perseveres and prevails.

 

Conversely, what if, in this exercise of truthful introspection, the rank and file takes the nonprofit pitch to task? Discovers the pitch itself is deficient? Deems it not reflective of reality? Decides it is more fantastical than fact? Determines there is little if any truth left in advertising? At this juncture, upholding the myth of a mission is nothing less than a crisis of meaning. This is a threat that not even a three-word mission statement can abate. At this stage it's probably better to ditch your nonprofit pitch. Reject it, repent and return to square one. Sit down and start over.

 

Take your time. We'll wait. Then you can tell us what your nonprofit really is. In three words. No more. No less.

 

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