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  • Otto Reinisch

Want a Better 'Elevator Pitch'? Start With Why

Nonprofit board members are ditching the fact-filled ‘elevator pitch’ as they discover a more effective way to inform and engage others: storytelling. Now, every board member – even yours – can fulfill their ambassadorial role as a master storyteller who brings to life the most compelling thing about their organization: why it exists.

Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why, is right. Why your organization exists is the reason donors give, volunteers serve, and leaders lead. What you do is important. Your programs and services are tangible proof of what you value and believe. But, it’s your why that inspires the imagination and ignites passion, just as it did for your founders and as it still can today.

The board of a nonprofit community center recently asked for help in developing a new elevator pitch. I invited each member to share their version which they prepared ahead of time.

After the third one, I asked, “Does anyone have one significantly different?” Everyone shook their head. Each was nearly identical, focusing on the mission, some accomplishments, and a laundry list of programs.

Then, I asked this question. It changed everything.

“What would it mean to this community if your organization closed its doors tonight? Simply ceased to exist?”


After a few moments, an elderly senior member of the board said, “That would be devastating.”

“Why?”, I asked. "Tell me more."

He shared a story about a young boy who stopped him on the street outside the center. The boy asked him if he worked at the center. "No", the board member replied, "I'm just a helper." "Well," the boy said, “my momma told me this is a safe place where I can become whatever I want to be. Thank you.”

“That,” I said, “is your why. It’s why you exist. It’s your promise to the community. And, it’s the beginning of your very own elevator pitch”.

The easy part remained; describing how the center fulfilled that promise: after-school tutoring, career counseling, sports programs, food pantry, and more.

Stories inspire and encourage us. They connect us in powerful ways. In them, we find personal meaning and, ultimately, hope. This is something facts, alone, never can do.

Over the past year, I’ve heard your stories about what sustained you throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They are deeply personal accounts of courage, sacrifice, creativity, inspiration. They really are stories about your why and they need to be told. Your elevator pitch is the perfect place to start.

Need help getting started?

Let's talk. Click here to explore how we can work together to help your organization discover its 'why' and, then, help board members turn it into their own compelling invitation for others to join your cause.

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