Fresh from business school and relatively new to the fundraising scene, I thought I knew how to do a corporate prospect call. I had started working with a small charity and after just a few weeks, had a potential corporate partner set in my sights. I was crystal clear on the business benefits for us and them but still, as I prepared to reach out to my contact at the company, Dave, I remember thinking,Relax, it isn’t Dave’s money, it’s the company’s money. You’ll be fine.”

So, I got on the phone, and I spoke about my charity, outlining all the benefits of a partnership like a BOSS. An excellent elevator pitch (or so I thought). The problem was, Dave hadn’t spoken. Not once. Not until he told me that I could go ahead and submit a proposal via the company portal. Just like everybody else.

In my gut, I could hear that he didn’t like me that much, and then it hit me. I’d been so busy talking that I had learned almost nothing about him or what the company wanted in a charitable partner.

That’s the thing about elevator pitches. They are standard, they imply one size fits all. They don’t focus on the points of connection, and don’t necessitate learning about the other person or organization. I had mistakenly made it all about me, neglecting the company and the person I was speaking with. This experience became one for the lesson book, as I got neither the partnership or revenue I’d hoped for as a result.

Rethinking the Classic Elevator Pitch

So, with this lesson under my belt, when I am asked to help charities build their elevator pitch for corporate partners, I know exactly where to start. By building messages that focus on the company – and the connection.

The first step is to start by reframing what it is you are doing. You are not building a standard script that is going to work for everyone. You working towards an “alignment conversation”.

An alignment conversation is a short set of key messages combined with a list of questions through which you look to build alignment between your non-profit, a potential corporate partner, and the person on the other end of the phone.

To figure out potential areas of alignment, ask yourself “why would a company give money to my non-profit?”. Generate a list of as many possibilities as you can think of! Consider points such as:

  • Our new program, building, or initiative aligns with your company CRS priorities.
  • We both serve the same geographic community.
  • Your ideal customer is also our special event audience, or client.
  • Your employees will get so much out of the engagement opportunities we offer.

Once you have a list, review it and look for the ones that distinguish your charity from other non-profits.

Back Away from the Script!

By identifying ways in which your charity overlaps with potential corporate partners, you’ve created a base for your alignment conversation. That was Step 1.

Step 2. Come up with messaging that reflects the core strength of your organization, and if you have a clear metric that conveys success, include that too.

Step 3. Think of how you can make it personal. Is there success story of testimonial you can add in there? Is there a reason you are connected to the organization that will make you, and what you have to say, more interesting? This is the extra spice you need to make your starting connection points even stronger.

Now you’re equipped with everything required to engage in a successful alignment conversation. But the secret ingredient? Fluidity.

Resist the temptation to blurt everything out in a single script. Pull the right parts of the messaging into the conversation as required, after getting a feel for the person and company you’re dealing with. As you keep it fluid, look for ways to inject personality to build your relationship. Intersperse these messages with as many questions as you can. This is what shifts the conversation from being about you, to being about them.

… and voila. You’re there! A set of key messages that can be built into a starting conversation is a great way to move away from the stale elevator pitch of days gone by and an alignment conversation that will set you up for success.

I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with, and practice makes perfect. SO, reach out and let’s test it. Can we have a conversation that aligns? [email protected]

Let’s talk!


P.S I’m not kidding, call me, and practice! Tell me why your charity is the perfect fit for a business partnership.