Elevator speeches and personal stories are two vital means of making a prospective donor interested in your organization, if you can effectively craft the message and communicate it.
R. Daniel Shephard, CFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which he examined the distinctions between the elevator speech and the personal story, then offered instructions on how to prepare and share them with your key audiences, including professional colleagues, key volunteers, and – most important – prospective donors.
In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:
Steven: Good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, Let’s Get Personal – Elevator Speeches and Personal Stories for Fundraisers. My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
Just before we begin, I want to let everyone know that I am recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out the recording later this afternoon as soon as it’s done uploading to YouTube, so if you have to duck out early or if maybe you want to review the content or share it with someone on your team, you’ll be able to do that a little later on today. So, no worries if you have to duck out. I’ll also be resending our guest’s slides, just in case you did not receive them earlier today.
As you’re listening today, it’s always fun when we have some interactivity here, so there is a chat box right there on your webinar screen. Feel free to ask any questions as you’re listening. Send any comments, talk to each other. It’s always fun to see fundraisers talking to each other during the presentation. Don’t be shy about that at all.
We’re going to save the questions until the end. We’re going to have a little bit of a formal Q&A session probably the last 10 or 15 minutes of the presentation. Our guest will be here to answer your questions live as soon as he’s done presenting, so don’t be shy about that at all. We’d love to see some activity there.
Just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome. We do these webinars every Thursday. They’re always educational. We bring on a great guest every week.
But in addition to that, we are also a fundraising database software company. We provide that service. If you’re interested in that, I’d love for you to check out our website to learn more. You can get a free video demo of Bloomerang by just clicking throughout the website and entering your name. So you can check that out if you’re interested.
Now what I’d like to do is go ahead and introduce our guest. He is Dan Shephard, CFRE. Hey there, Dan. How’s it going?
Dan: I am terrific. Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining us.
Steven: Thanks for being here, Dan. For those of you who don’t know Dan, Dan has served as a frontline fundraiser in Planned Giving and Major Giving positions for the Florida State University Foundation, Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, The Citadel Foundation, and Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. Lots of different places. He’s been doing this for almost 30 years, working in performing arts and higher ed.
What he does is he helps form philosophies that guide some great workshops and coaching programs that he provides to his clients at his consultancy.
Dan is just an all-around great guy. I’m really excited to have you here and talk about elevator pitches and personal stories. I’m not going to take up any more of your time. I’m going to pass it off to you to get us started. So why don’t you take it away, Dan?
Dan: Thank you, Steven. Thanks again for the opportunity. Welcome, everybody. Happy Thursday. Let’s just dive right in.
To begin, to suggest that all not-for-profit executives, board members, other key volunteers should be better fundraisers, well, it’s wishful thinking at best. If even a small handful of your staff and volunteer leadership are willing to help with donor cultivation and solicitation, you should consider yourself fortunate. It’s a bonus if some of those are even good at it.
As for the rest, most of them shouldn’t even be asked to fundraise. However, the executive director, the program and department heads, the dean and every board member, especially those on the development committee and even those who aren’t, they all have a role to play, a contribution to make, in raising funds for your organization.
Consider this perspective. The vast majority of significant gifts are the result of three considerations by the donor in three components of the overall gift conversation.
First, why should I consider a gift, which is the emotional heart of the gift conversation.
Then, what impact will my gift have? Where might I want to designate it?
And finally, how will my gift be made? When will the gift be made, with what of my assets, in conjunction with other personal considerations?
Here’s what’s really exciting. Each member of your fundraising team has a key role to play in this conversation.
The volunteer leader can best speak to why, starting with his or her own why; why he serves on your board, why your organization matters to her. Your professional leadership, those who are responsible for mission, visions and programs, are best equipped to address for what they need funding. And the professional fundraisers – your expertise – is in how to plan the gift.
Your obligation, your opportunity is to make the best use of your teammates in asking and discussing those first two considerations where your teammates’ strengths lie.
If you agree with these suppositions with these three components of a successful gift conversation and with my assessment of the strengths of the respective members of your team, then it’s easy to focus on what you should really ask of your professional and volunteer colleagues.
Let’s start with your board members. I teach asking three things of them. First, draft your personal story, your explanation of why you believe in our organization and why you serve it. Second, identify potential donors with whom you’re willing to share that story, and execute it. Invite those identified potential donors to engage with your organization. Make phone calls; invite those referrals to events and on-site visits. Open the door for the professional staff who want to talk with them about for what and about how.
As for the professional leadership, whether you’re talking about your CEO, the executive director, a dean, a project director, about anybody who’s responsible for a program that costs money to manage, there are ample opportunities to share the vision and the plans for those programs. The best way I know to do this is to humanize and personalize it, especially when you’re speaking with potential donors.
Finally, the job of the fundraising professional – your job – is to coach or sometimes coax the vision and the stories out of your staff and volunteer leaders so you can make the best use of what they do best, and that usually isn’t asking people for money.
Their greatest value is in making connections between the things for which they need funding and those people you intend to ask for that funding so that they can share their ideas, their plans, their experiences, their observations and the excitement that’s generated through that sharing.
Philanthropy is personal, so the information you share with prospective donors should be personal. Ideally, it should be tailored to each person with whom you share it.
We’re going to examine two tools you can use to create and share that personal information and to invite the responses you’re looking for from those with whom you and your colleagues do the sharing.
Those tools are the elevator speech and the personal story. Let me start by distinguishing between the two.
The elevator speech is a second-person telling when you’re talking about someone or something other than your own experience, although I think it’s okay that you can be mentioned or included in the elevator speech. The elevator speech is typically offered either proactively when a speaker is invited to report to or to brief an audience, or reactively in response to one of my favorite questions, Dan, tell me what’s new at our organization.
On the other hand, the personal story is a first-person sharing. It’s your experience, your memories, your feelings. It’s typically and ideally offered one-on-one, occasionally to a group, and sometimes effectively using the telephone.
As I distinguish between the two, I’ll also say that I think it’s okay sometimes to blur the lines; to combine the two depending upon the circumstances, depending upon with whom you’re sharing the information. I’m going to suggest that experience is going to teach you how best to employ your prepared material in the most effective way to any particular audience.
Let’s take a closer look at each. The elevator speech, again, is a second-person telling about someone or something impacted by your mission and those programs for which you’re seeking support. It’s a reporting of experiences, feelings, wishes and plans for your organization delivered to your constituents, whether in groups or individually.
Your elevator speech should identify a need or an opportunity. It should refer to your mission, your vision statement, maybe your strategic plans, and certainly your case for support. It should address a solution, your plan to address it, why it matters, the difference your planned solution will make, and maybe include some projected outcomes and some targeted goals.
Ideally, you want to provide a human example whenever possible, so talk about a student, a client, a volunteer, a faculty member, or a researcher. You get the idea. It should explain how private support will impact and further your vision to address that solution.
Finally, and most important, it should extend an invitation to the listener. There should always be a next step.
You do want to have pertinent facts and statistics available for the hope for a follow-up conversation, but I suggest that you don’t focus on those when you initially share your elevator speech.
I want to share an example of one that I used during my last job as a Development Director at the College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. This is the elevator speech that my Dean and I used when we were asked that question, Dan or Dean, what’s going on with the law school?
My response was, I’m really glad you asked that. We’re doing a lot of work through our experiential programs, particularly through our Centers for Excellence in Advocacy and Transactional Law. You know, I talked with one of our advocacy students just a few days ago. Let me tell you this wonderful example of what we’re doing.
Jeremiah just got back this fall from a six-week internship in the Public Defender’s Office in Brooklyn, New York. He told the Dean and me when we were talking with him the other day that when he first got there, he was intimidated. There were about a half-dozen other students; one from Yale, from Stanford, from Duke, and he was wondering how he was going to fit in. But then he said after about two weeks, those other interns started coming to him and asking for his advice on how to do things, how to prepare and file motions, and how to draft briefs.
When he told us this, he was absolutely beaming with pride. That’s what’s going on at the law school. I want to invite you over next week to see what’s going on in the Advocacy Center. I’d like for you to meet Jeremiah.
So, there’s one example of what one might look like and sound like.
Why the elevator speech? Well, it’s an opportunity to focus your organizational story; to humanize and personalize your story. It’s an opportunity to generate interest and excitement in your story, in your programs and activities. It’s because people have short attention spans in the information age, and because you’re going to have a very short time to deliver your elevator speech before you’re interrupted.
As Rod Stewart sang in 1971,” Every Picture Tells a Story.” Let me tell you the story within this particular photo.
Here you all are at the reception. The gray-haired fellow, he’s the Executive Director or the Dean. You can figure out who your person is. The young man in the powder blue shirt is the potential donor, who has been delivered to the Dean or the Director. The fellow standing behind the prospect with his arms folded and that smug grin on his face, well, that’s you, the Development Director, who has delivered the prospect to the Dean.
The Dean, of course, is delivering his elevator speech, which looks like good news. But wait; look at the people all around them. Those are the hoverers, and they’re doing what they do. They are hovering, hoping to be seen, hoping to be noticed, waiting for their opportunity.
What’s really interesting is who’s not yet in the photo, but fast approaching. They’re the pouncers, and they are getting ready to pounce, because each pouncer has something awfully important to say to the Dean.
The bottom line and the moral of this little visual story is when you’re delivering your elevator speech, the clock is ticking.
Who should have an elevator speech? Any leader and any representative of your organization who is willing to speak to groups of your constituents, your prospects, and your donors. It’s your CEO, department heads and directors, if they’re interested in funding. It’s your board leaders. This is a great project for your development committee if you have a development committee. And finally, selected individual volunteers, maybe recent major donors, those who you want to put in front of others as exemplary leaders.
Where do you share your elevator speech? I recommend that you draft two versions of the speech. The long version should be – my rule of thumb that I’ve taught to my deans and department heads is no more than five minutes. That’s for a group briefing. Many of you have been in those group briefings at receptions where the CEO or the President will go on and on and on, and suddenly there are fewer people listening to the speech and more people in the back of the room at the bar.
The short version should be 60 seconds to no more than two minutes. Again, that’s for an individual encounter, one-on-one, face-to-face.
But in either case, remember that the clock is ticking.
With practice, you can customize your elevator speech for a specific audience, especially for an individual meeting, when you’re able to learn in advance what that person is most likely to be interested in so you can craft your story, your speech, for that person, for that anticipated encounter. Once you get the hang of it, this can become a powerful and even flexible tool for you.
What might that look like? You could deliver your elevator speech proactively, say, at a reception where you come prepared with an index card in your pocket that has three or four names on it, people who you’ve researched, who you believe are going to be there, who you intend to engage at the reception. As you meet with each, you might say, Hi, I’m Dan. Tell me, when were you last on campus? When did you last visit our facility? Or, have you seen our latest magazine or newsletter? Ask a leading, thoughtful question that primes the pump.
Your listener might say something like, well, it’s been a while; I haven’t really been that involved, or, I haven’t gotten a magazine; thank you for asking, in which case, you get to thoughtfully respond by saying, I’d love to take a moment and update you on all the good news from our organization. And of course, you deliver your elevator speech.
Then there’s the reactive approach, where you’re, say, at the same reception. One of those people, whether it’s one who’s on your list or a stranger, walks up to you and asks that wonderful question, Dan, what’s new with the law school? You get to launch right into your elevator speech because you want people to be asking you this question and you’re prepared.
How to draft that elevator speech? I hope some of you at least have downloaded the printable attachments that were made available for the webinar. The one I want to refer to right now is the elevator speech template. If you don’t happen to have this in front of you, it will be available later.
Rather than read to you the bullet points that are on the template and that you see on the slide here, what I want to do is give you a couple of examples of the finished product, which is of course the goal of working with the template.
Put yourself in the shoes of the listener, again, at that reception. You’ve asked, what’s new at your organization, and the respondent might say something like this: there’s a recitation of the mission statement and the strategic plan, there’s a lengthy litany of statistics and factoids, some tossed in financials, attendance statistics, a reminder of upcoming events; the usual.
But what if you asked and you got this in response: I’m really glad you asked that – this, by the way, is an elevator speech that I worked with a local organization here in the Cincinnati area that serves persons with disabilities, and this one in particular went like this – thanks for asking. During my interactions with our clients and the staff who serve them, I regularly get to see how the quality of life improves for people with disabilities as they achieve independence and reach their potential. I spoke recently with the mother of a little boy. His name was Jason. Jason can’t speak. His mom shared this story with me the other day.
She said that a therapist recently told her during a visit to ask Jason if he loved her. The mom said she was hesitant, because she knew very well that Jason doesn’t speak. But she was polite, and she asked. Jason hit a switch on a handheld communication device that we’re teaching him and some of the others to use. It activated a pre-recorded voice that said, ‘I love you.’ The mom was teary-eyed. She told me it was the first time her son was able to say he loved her. It was something she never thought she would hear.
Which of those would you like to hear in response to your asking, what’s new at Redwood?
Of course, you want to be ready with the follow-up information, the important statistics and factoids, but only when you have a chance to provide them. That goes something like this, because again, you’re ready: we’re focusing this year on our programs that build and enhance life skills that teach independence for our clients, especially our educational and therapeutic programs for children. We currently provide services for 120 children, ages 4-18. We’ve had a 94% success rate in job placement for those who’ve completed that training over the last two years.
This is just a small part of our overall mission of providing services to persons with disabilities through which we serve more than 400 clients annually. I would love to tell you more about this. I would love to invite you over to our facility. I want you to see these programs and meet some of the children. I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll compare our calendars.
So, two versions of what an elevator speech might look like and might sound like.
Before we move on, let’s talk about next steps. I’m going to give you an assignment. You see it here on the slide. It’s simply this: use this template. Give a copy of it to each person in your organization who you would like to draft his or her elevator speech. Meet with them individually. Coach them; coax them if you need to, and then once they’re ready, get everybody together and practice with one another. Gain some competence. Gain some confidence. And finally, and to the point, identify some prospects and create some occasions where those people, now prepped, can share the elevator speeches. Because if you don’t do something like this, what will we have done here for this hour?
Let’s move on to the personal story. Let me clarify and distinguish, the personal story is a first-person sharing. It’s your experience, your memories and your feelings. Its goal is to engage somebody on an emotional level.
Why storytelling? It’s something that we’ve been talking about a great deal for the last year or so. It’s kind of amazing that we haven’t talked about it for a number of years. I know that there are cycles in many things in life, and I’m glad that in the fundraising world, we’ve cycled back to talking about storytelling and sharing experiences and feelings and emotions.
Stories are about people. They’re about experiences and memories. We are drowning in information in the 21st century. A good story can cut through that noise. Stories are real, as opposed to abstract concepts and statistics. Stories capture people emotionally. They create that deep emotional bond that we seek as fundraisers. They’re memorable. People do forget the facts, but they remember how they felt when they heard an interesting, compelling story.
Who should draft one? Who should have a personal story to share? The priority, of course, is the peers of those you want to hear the stories and those who you want to influence, whose thinking you want to influence by sharing.
That begins with your key volunteers, your board, other key volunteer leaders, and certainly if you have one, your development committee, but do not limit this only to your development committee; don’t leave everybody else out. And major donors, especially the ones who you see some willingness to be able to use to help share their stories with others. Take advantage of that.
Your development officers, your CEO, and program directors can share stories, some based on their own experiences, especially those who work directly with students or patients or clients. And some can do it second-hand by saying, you know, our board chairman told me the other day this wonderful story that I want to share with you.
Some people won’t have experiences that they can use in order to draft their personal stories. Some board members, for example, are a little less engaged than we might wish they are. But if we can give them a second-hand a story that they can use, if we can coach or coax them up to make them willing, then do it that way.
Let me give you some examples. These, again, are from that training that I did with Redwood, the local organization here near Cincinnati, where some of the board members weren’t as well-prepared, so the development director drafted some generic, although true-to-life stories that we were able to share and they were able to use.
Here are two examples of the second-party personal story in case you’re working with somebody who doesn’t have his or her own.
The first one: Redwood isn’t just here for the children and the adults we serve, but it’s also for their families. They get as much out of our programs as do the clients. We had a pair of elderly parents who brought their son, their adult son, to Redwood. He struggled with communication. He couldn’t feed himself, he didn’t walk, so the parents were hesitant to leave him in our care.
At first, they would stay in the room with him. Gradually, they got to where they could linger out in the hall just outside the room. Eventually, while we were working with him, they’d wait in the Welcome Center. Finally, one day, the parents came in and explained how they had just had lunch together. It was the first time in 40 years they were able to sit down, just the two of them, and have lunch together. By the way, their son has made some great strides, too. He’s a lot more independent. He’s able to walk now and he feeds himself. That’s a story.
Here’s another example: Redwood is so innovative. Do you know that we have an iRobot program? Our clients, both the children and the adults, learn basic science, technology, engineering and math skills as they program a Lego robot to perform different actions. I saw this. One day they programmed a robot to draw a big flower. Another day, the kids programmed a robot to complete an obstacle course.
The point, though, is that these activities teach skills. They help people learn to solve problems. They teach teamwork. This is really important and it works. I would love to show it to you. I want to invite you over to watch these young people work with these robots. It’s fascinating. I’m going to call you tomorrow and invite you to the facility.
Again, always close with inviting the next step.
We’ll close here with an assignment. So, where might you share your personal story, for what audiences and what occasions? Well, you can do them for phone calls. One of the things that I really have enjoyed hearing from a number of charities in the last several years is the creation of what people call thank-a-thons, where professionals, volunteers, even sometimes some of those who are served will occasionally get together and call recent donors to say thanks. What a great occasion to have a personal story available for those conversations as you’re able to create those opportunities.
Of course, you want to share your stories with those who you invite to events and those who you encounter at events, whether they’re on your site or whether they’re out of town, particularly valid for college alumni. You want to be able to share your stories with those who you meet with individually, so we’re getting into the realm of one-on-one relationship building.
Sharing your story should include an invitation for the listener to tell his or her story. Imagine you’re at that reception I keep talking about. Sometimes you may invite that person’s story first, and then respond by sharing your own. You might look for an opportunity for a follow-up or introductions for a referral.
Back to that reception, you can do it proactively, where you’ve got those three or four names on the index card in your pocket, the people you’re looking to engage with, and as you approach one and introduce yourself, you could say something like, I’m curious to know your story about our organization? Or, what brought you here? Or, what’s your favorite memory of our organization? Have you visited so-and-so? Have you volunteered? Have you met so-and-so? One of my all-time favorites is, what’s your favorite program at our organization?
Of course, your listener, now that you’ve primed the pump, will hopefully tell his or her version of a personal story, especially if your question invited something that might sound like a story. Then you have the opportunity to discuss what that person has just shared with you.
You could say something like, you know, that reminds me of something that I experienced or somebody I know, and maybe have an opportunity there to share your prepared story. Or you could say, I want our Executive Director to hear what you have to say. I see her right across the room. Come on and let me introduce you.
That’s the proactive approach.
Then, reactively. Say you’re at the same reception, and somebody you don’t know walks up to you and asks that favorite question, what’s going on at Redwood or at the law school or your organization? Or, Dan, who are you? What do you do here? In which case, you get to respond and then try to find an opportunity to segue into your prepared personal story, at the end of which you could ask, what’s your story? Why are you here? It’s reversal of the proactive approach to sharing all this information.
Now, this version – any of it, really – takes a little bit of practice, especially with the segue part, which is why the assignment could be so valuable. I hope it doesn’t surprise you to hear that we’re going to get to an assignment for this section of the presentation right now that looks virtually identical to the first one.
Give the personal story template – again, it’s available from Bloomerang – to each person you would like to draft his or her story. Work with them individually, coach them up, and then get them together in a group so that they can work with one another and help each other, and then have a practice session. Finally, and always the most important thing, identify people with whom they would want to share their stories. Create those opportunities, because otherwise, what’s the point?
My challenge for you is this. Once we’re done, once you log out of the webinar, I encourage you to commit to find at least one opportunity to test one of the ideas that I’ve shared with you; one thing that resonates with you. Learn from that. Get comfortable with it. Grow confident in your abilities with that. Do it again. Get good at it. Share it with your colleagues. Create a culture of giving.
We talk a lot about creating a culture of philanthropy within charitable organizations, which is an admirable goal and it’s something we ought to pursue every day. But I want to challenge you to do a little bit more than that.
I want you to create a culture of caring, a culture of sharing, and to the point of all of this, I want you to create a culture of collaboration among all of the folks on your fundraising team; your volunteer leaders, your professional leadership, if you’re a larger organization, all of your development colleagues, and finally, your potential, future and past donors. Create that culture. Make it all work. Share not only the vision and the statistics and the plans, but personalize it, because that’s what philanthropy is really all about.
With that, I’m done with the presentation. I would welcome questions and conversation.
Steven: We’ve got one here from