Crafting an Effective Pitch for Your Nonprofit

On September 29th, Professor Cathryn Edelstein, the Senior-Scholar-in-Residence in the Department of Communication Studies at Emerson College, conducted the first of a two-part training program on crafting an effective pitch. We’ve highlighted the most important tips and techniques from Professor Edelstein’s seminar:

Tips to bear in mind as you craft your pitch:

  • Use inclusive language that involves and engages your listener throughout your pitch. For example, use “we,” “you,” and “us” rather than talking in the third person.
  • Your nonprofit should develop a unique pitch for each call to action. For example, you may have separate, individualized pitches for potential donors, for those inquiring for more information on your nonprofit, and for potential volunteers.
  • An effective pitch incorporates the three modes of persuasion developed by Aristotle: ethos, pathos, and logos.
    • Ethos: the ethical appeal to your audience, in which you convince them of your credibility and thus prove you are worth listening to. Some have pre-established ethos derived simply from their title (e.g. doctors, lawyers, professors, presidents, and others with degrees following their name). If someone with pre-established ethos cannot deliver an effective pitch, however, they lose ethos. Conversely, ethos can be gained throughout a pitch if it is effectively delivered.
    • Pathos: the emotional appeal to your audience, in which you persuade them to care. This is especially important for nonprofits. Evoking pathos in your audience is key to inspire their confidence in your mission and ultimately bring them to action. Sharing a narrative through storytelling is an effective way to build pathos in your audience.
    • Logos is the appeal to logic, in which you convince your audience of what you are telling them using logic or reason. Do this by citing facts, statistics, or authorities on the subject, or by using historical analogies. In doing so, you will construct a logical argument persuading your audience that their action is necessary.

How to Organize Your Pitch: A Summary of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

  • “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence,” developed by Alan Monroe in the 1930s at Purdue University, consists of five steps to engage your audience. By the end of your pitch, you will have asked your listeners to do something, and inspired them to take this action.
  • This sequence incorporates ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos  comes into play the moment you begin speaking. Pathos should come into play soon after, as you use the following technique to evoke an emotional reaction in your audience. Logos will be developed throughout your pitch, from start to finish. Your pitch should appeal to reason in your audience by following a logical flow.
  • Following the five steps chronologically will ensure a logical flow of information to engage your audience. Return to the same examples, facts, or anecdotes throughout your pitch, as you will lose your audience if you do not tell a cohesive story. If your pitch appeals to reason, your audience is more likely to take action.
  • In this seminar, we used the example of a pitch persuading a grocery store to use Fair Trade coffee. The information we’ve included below is only meant to be used as examples; statistics used may not be accurate.

The 5 Steps of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, with examples:

1. Attention: Use an attention grabber to engage listeners and introduce your topic. Perhaps you will share an anecdote, offer background information, or ask questions. Maintain a positive manner, forming goodwill between you and your audience while gaining their respect and establishing ethos.

  • Ex: “I see you sell several different coffee products, but none have Fair Trade certification. Have you ever thought about where the coffee products you sell come from?”

2. Need: Clarify the specific need in the local, national, or global community that your nonprofit works to fill. Evoke pathos by telling a touching narrative; continue to build ethos by using statistics or facts that your audience will find shocking (be sure to verbally cite your sources). Convince your audience of a personal need to take action. They should understand the value of your nonprofit’s services. After this step, your audience should know the need your nonprofit works to fill, believe in its significance, and thus empathize with your nonprofit’s mission.

  • Ex: “Most coffee growers don’t receive a fair price for their harvest, lack direct market access, and sell premium crops below their production cost to local middlemen who misrepresent global prices and capitalize off the farmers. This throws families into a cycle of debt, forces many to abandon their land and years of agricultural heritage, and destroys the social and cultural fabric of coffee farming communities. As consumers become increasingly aware of this, a rapidly increasing number are making different purchasing decisions. A recent study from Grounds for Change [always cite your source] showed 90% of Americans say it’s important for companies to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society, and 70% say they’re more likely to support companies that make that commitment.”

3. Satisfaction: Explain specifically how your nonprofit will fill the described need. Provide clear, viable solutions. Give your listeners a way to personally help solve the problem by supporting your cause. Remember to establish logos, referring to the same examples, facts, or anecdotes you provided when describing the need, and using new facts and reasoning to form a logical argument for supporting your cause.

  • Ex: “The rapid increase in consumers demanding justice for coffee farmers, which Fair Trade products provide, proves consumers want ethically sourced goods. Whole Foods, one of your store’s competitors, decided to supply only Fair Trade certified coffee and improved its coffee sales.”

4. Visualization: Employ detailed language to paint an image of what will happen if the described need is filled, versus what will happen if it remains unfilled. If your audience does not take action, what will happen? If your audience does choose to take action, what will the change look like? Always use your audience in the scenario, so they feel personally engaged. Use powerful words like “imagine,” “picture,” and “visualize” to paint the picture for your listeners.

  • Ex: “Picture your grocery store as a part of the Fair Trade movement, gaining a new market of consumers, operating on the same scale as grocery stores like Whole Foods, while providing products that improve the lives of coffee farming communities throughout the developing world.”

5. Action: Explain the specific action you want your audience to take. Do you want them to donate money, volunteer, offer material support, etc.? Tell your audience what they can do, through your nonprofit, to personally be a part of solving the established problem.

  • Ex: “If your grocery store makes the decision to sell Fair Trade certified coffee, you can increase revenue, be a part of the Fair Trade movement, and join the increasing number of grocery stores helping to bring  critical change on a global scale.”

An effective pitch inspires its audience to listen, explains the existing need your nonprofit is working to fill, inspires empathy in its audience so they are drawn to your nonprofit’s mission, provides a solution to the problem through your nonprofit’s work, encourages the visualization of this successful outcome, and ultimately inspires action. By the end of your pitch, your audience should feel that the problem you aim to solve is critical, but there is hope: the problem can be solved, and they can help solve it by supporting your nonprofit.

One thought on “Crafting an Effective Pitch for Your Nonprofit

  1. Cathryn says:

    Excellent! With these steps and practices in mind a strong persuasive pitch can be developed and delivered. Thank you for providing the opportunity for me and my students from Nonprofit Management at Emerson College to collaborate with all of you. Win-Win!

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