Why we need to learn how to pitch in fundraising

I saw a session once at a conference once upon a time where people tried to pitch, in that way in our head we all think of as a pitch – formal, stand in front of, presentation etc. Well, here’s the truth. They couldnt and they didn’t. I remember sitting there thinking what have I just seen. It was, well, just plain bad. It set me thinking.

I’ve watched over time, a creeping loss of the skill and art of pitching. It’s been replaced by tools, digital, social media. Its been overlaid with brand and ‘key messages’. Its been undermined with a lack of trust. Its been eroded by a world more connected that ever and equally much less connected. I’ve watched fundraisers under pressure to connect and reach out on one hand and on the other paralysed with fear. Of course I’ve seen some pitching genius through this. I’ve watched street and face to face fundraisers do amazing things to engage and pitch under extreme conditions. I’ve seen major gift fundraisers pitch big projects of change, real dreams and huge opportunities. I’ve seen Community fundraisers connect on every level. But if I’m honest it’s not the norm, and whats out there is sometimes not up to it.

The word pitch is a loaded word in fundraising. There is the tribe who hates it. There is the tribe who relish it. There is the tribe that haven’t thought about it. But how can a new relationship with pitch, help us become a bit more deliberate, to lean in a bit, to show some confidence, to ask again with some flair.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary pitch means a speech or act that attempts to persuade someone to buy or do something. In this context, its pretty innocent and quite simple. The issue for the haters of the word is that sell is there. The connotation that as fundraisers we are selling, rather than having meaningful conversations, feels like it undermines the purity we strive for in the fundraising process. For this tribe its loaded understanding reinforces what we are not, rather than what we may be. I was at AFP Toronto, and the day before I was doing a session on pitching to the brilliant Canadian fundraising community, we had a discussion in the bar about the word pitch. A story about a board member whose commercial instincts were flowing, had stated that we must pitch, only to be challenged that we shouldn’t pitch, we should begin conversations. We explored the motives and the barriers. As always, right and wrong blur.

A few days later I recounted the story to another revered fundraiser who took a completely opposite view. Maybe the definition was in the traditional space we know, a pitch presentation to a company but the relish was there and a clarity that to pitch was what we did and do. Own it. So, the word pitch is polarising. But if we allow it to bring its baggage in then we do ourselves an injustice. We need a new confidence and a new sense of purpose.

If you look at the landscape of fundraising, the most obvious pitchers are face to face fundraisers in the street. Perhaps that’s why it provokes equal Marmite reactions. A pitch can feel disruptive and people don’t like to feel pitched at. In the commercial world, the redefinition of pitch is also taking place. Its loaded sense of ‘selling’ turns off people and entrepreneurs are equally seeking to engage, inspire and intrigue, to build rapport and relationship and solve customers problems rather than simply sell. But this distinction is hard to sometimes see, and here lies the problem. If we allow ourselves to be too soft in our approach, then we stop leaning in, we lose the deliberate process that an old-fashioned pitch used to have. That perhaps is why we feel more comfortable in a presentation to a company for a charity of the year – its whats expected, but what about every day.

So the opportunity is to use the sense of a pitch in a new way and much broader way, mixing the deliberate goal of engaging and asking with the inspiration and conversation we are good at. All too often we find ourselves reacting to supporters, servicing them and nurturing those that raise their hands rather than go out and get new supporters by being the ones to start a conversation. Street fundraisers have to lean in – how can we take some of that in all our other areas, just enough to rediscover a new purpose for pitching in fundraising that enhances and inspires.

As I have explored this subject I have noticed that when we understand how people react to a pitch, we are in a much better place to learn how to do it in a way that is right for us and right for the supporter.  Looking at the many ways commercial pitches are made and matching them to our world I have created 7 steps to a great fundraising pitch. It gives us a deliberate framework and mindset so we can be more proactive at a time when we need to be, but in a way that is right for the fundraising process, but it also takes account of the science of the pitch, how people hear and receive and the right and wrong way to connect to be heard and to inspire action.

If you’re interested in taking a day to rediscover how to pitch in your fundraising, to move you and your team to a more proactive approach with more confidence using a step by step framework, then join me for the Pitch Driven Fundraising Workshop on the 6th February and I’ll show you how to become proactive, deliberate and focused on your everyday fundraising to engage more people and organisations to support you. For more information click, here. Places are limited.

If we can rediscover some confidence and apply the right tools, then we can reach out, inspire people and raise more money. Lets learn to pitch for good.

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