In the past few months, emails from several continents have come in asking about ways to establish a nonprofit and attract clients. While the “how-tos” of starting a nonprofit vary from country to country and state to state (province to province) based on tax and other laws, the “how to” of attracting clients starts by answering a simple question: Who are you and why should I use your services? If you know this answer, you are well on your way to promoting the program.
Each of your employees should be able to give an “elevator pitch”— a short impromptu presentation promoting your program. The pitch gets its name from the idea that you might find yourself on an elevator next to a potential client, employer, funding source or whomever/whatever you are looking for. How can you sell yourself — and your services — in the time it takes for them to get to their destination? You may have a few minutes or just 30 seconds, but you definitely do not have the time to give a full-fledged presentation complete with 27 glossy 8 x 10 color photos, a business plan and market analysis. Instead, you have at best a few hundred words, or the amount that you have read of this column so far, to impress them. It’s not easy, but once you have it down, you can do it on command at any time.
When I work with folks, I often ask them to pitch me their program. Pitching can be distasteful for many of us — as counselors, we do not like to think of our work as selling. But we need to promote what makes our program special. In most cities and towns there are many programs that offer the same or similar services — why should people pick us?
What makes your program special? What makes you unique? Is there something that you or your program offers that you feel no other program does or does in the same way? What separates you from the competition? In our case, the other programs in the area featured sterile office environments and a “take a number” deli feel. In response to we pitched that we offered a homelike setting focused on the individual and that we incorporated nature.
When you pitch, you need not tell your audience everything about what you’re pitching. You simply need to tell your listeners enough to whet their interest and then give them a chance to reply and ask questions. Below are some examples of an elevator pitch with varying amounts of information based on what you think you may have time wise. You can develop some of your own, and they need not be the same basic pitch with additional information; each one can be unique if you prefer.
“We are a nonprofit mental health counseling and wellness program serving all ages regardless of their ability to pay, via two program locations, one being a therapeutic farm. We are in Bristol and Wolcott, Connecticut.” – 35 words
“We are a nonprofit mental health counseling and wellness program serving all ages regardless of their ability to pay, via two program locations; one being a therapeutic farm that has hiking trails, therapeutic gardens, therapeutic animals and educational programming. We are in Bristol and Wolcott, Connecticut.” – 46 words
“We are a nonprofit mental health counseling and wellness program serving all ages regardless of their ability to pay, via two program locations; one being a therapeutic farm that has hiking trails, therapeutic gardens, therapeutic animals and educational programming. We also provide training for clinical professionals. We are in Bristol and Wolcott, Connecticut. We do this with a team of paid and volunteer staff, and we serve hundreds of individuals and families for less money than some companies spend on catering.” – 81 words
“I founded a nonprofit mental health and wellness program in 2005 because I was unhappy with what I saw as a diminished focus on individual needs in favor of generic one size fits all programming. Since then, via a mostly volunteer team with some paid staff, we have expanded to two locations including a therapeutic farm that has about 50 acres of fields and forests, trails and therapeutic animal and gardening areas including greenhouses that offer ADA compliant beds. We serve all ages in an environment that helps people feel welcome, included, valued and above all comfortable. We are in Bristol and Wolcott, Connecticut.” – 104 words
What to consider:
When developing your pitch try to answer the following questions:
- Who do you serve?
- What is your specialty area?
- What services do you offer?
- What is the hook? Why you instead of the others? (Never put down the competition — simply highlight things that you have that others may lack.)
Do you have email and web addresses that are easy to remember? A person may not ask you for a card but may be curious later. An easy to remember email or web address can save the day. Your address need not be the name of your program. For instance, the farm we purchased was named “Pillwillop Farm,” and we simply added therapeutic to it. Few folks can recall it and when they do most mispronounce it and cannot even guess how to spell it. When they do try, “pillowtop farm” is the most frequent result. While we did purchase “Pillwillop.org” as a site, we went with the far easier “docwarren.org” and email@example.com for the main domain and email addresses. With these in place, people are much more likely to remember them or at least get them close enough that their web browser will pick up on it and direct them to us. In fact, our web and email addresses came at the suggestion of our clients; they knew what they wanted, and we gave it to them.
Once your pitch is done do not be afraid of silence — your audience may be considering what you had to say. Also, try not to push your card or other information on folks. I personally prefer to wait to see if they request it. The questions your pitch audience poses may surprise you, and the conversation may take a path that you never considered. Learn from these conversations and adjust your pitch as you see the need.
Take some time and think about who you are and why folks should use your services. You likely offer far more than you realize.
Nonprofit News looks at issues that are of interest to counselor clinicians, with a focus on those who are working in nonprofit settings.
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.