You step into the room and you start to sweat.

You’re here to meet people maybe gain some new supporters.

Your stomach churns. Your mind races. Your palms are clammy.

You’re going to have to introduce yourself and you’re not sure what to say.

We’ve all been there.

We want to sound sharp and yet sometimes we walk away from events like that knowing we bumbled and stumbled our way through it.

Here’s the good news: No one is born knowing how to be great at networking. It’s a learned skill.

The first step to making lots of new friends for your nonprofit is having something interesting and memorable to say when you introduce yourself.  You need an interesting, confident elevator speech.

The problem with most elevator speeches

Most people don’t think too much about what they say about their nonprofit. They might share what they think is “right” or expected. Or they share what they know.

They string too many facts together and unfortunately, it’s boring. And too long.

That’s why sometimes when you’re talking to someone, they seem to zone out or they need to go to the rest room. You’ve just bored them.

Here’s the kind of thing most people say:

“We’re a 501c3 nonprofit. We’ve been around 25 years. We empower disadvantaged people by providing them with a variety of physical and intellectual services to improve their life circumstances… blah blah blah.”

See how boring that is? And how it’s full of jargon? It doesn’t really say anything either. If you heard someone say this, would you have ANY idea what they do? I wouldn’t.

The Elevator Speech

“Elevator speech” is a term for a brief introduction you can give with the sole purpose of engaging someone in conversation.

Think of stepping onto an elevator with someone you’d really like to talk to. They press the button for the 5th floor. You have a matter of seconds to engage them in conversation before they step off the elevator and the opportunity is lost.

I live in a small town where we don’t have any buildings tall enough to have elevators. We call it the Check-Out Line Speech.

The one grocery store is the social hub of the community. You’re guaranteed to see someone you know when you go there, so it’s not a good idea to go in your ragged jeans or sweat pants. Chances are good that when you’re paying for your stuff, you’ll see someone you know. Again – you have a matter of seconds to say something interesting to engage them in conversation.

The whole point of the elevator speech is to get them to ask a question or two. Once you engage someone in conversation, chances are good that they’ll be interested in continuing to learn more later or sign up to volunteer or maybe even make a donation. That means you need to say something interesting and compelling. If it’s boring, they won’t continue the conversation. If it’s attention-grabbing, they’ll stick with you.

Sandy’s 3-Step Elevator Speech Formula

Let’s make this really simple, because the easier it is, the more likely you’ll use it.

Step 1. Who do you help?

Clearly identify, without the jargon, the exact people/animals your nonprofit serves. Is it single Moms who are coming off welfare? Senior dogs? Kids in inner-city neighborhoods?

Your listener needs to be able to picture these folks in their minds when you mention them. So be as clear as possible, using common conversational language.

Step 2. What do you help them do?

What is the transformation you help people with? Are you helping them go from homeless to temporary housing? Do you help them get life-saving medications? Or maybe a life-changing education?

It’s usually a change in situation, status, health, or something similar.

Step 3. What outcome do they get?

Outcomes are important. The outcome is the ultimate change they get.

Think about your programs and the difference in their life from the time they enter your program to the time they complete your program. What’s the change?

Now, put it all together. Use this formula to make it easier.

We help (who)

to (what)

so they can (outcome).

Here are a couple of examples.

For an animal rescue organization serving senior dogs, they might say

We help older dogs to get adopted so they can make the last years of their life the best years of their life.

Here’s one for a food bank:

We help people who are struggling to make ends meet get food so they don’t have to worry about what to feed their kids tonight.

Then if people want more, tell them a story about one life you’ve changed. This story needs to be very heart-warming and you need to be able to tell it quick. Use a “before-and-after” format to talk about what their life was like before they came to you and what’s it like now that they’ve been through your program.

Tips for sounding trustworthy

The more confident and clear you come across, the better. When you sound sure of yourself, it will build trust for your listener.

Watch the quality of your voice. Breathe from the diaphragm and keep yourself centered. Your voice will have a richer quality to it. If your breath comes from your chest or your head, your voice will sound thin and won’t instill confidence in your audience.

Practice your elevator speech so it will roll boldly off your tongue. This is no time to stumble over words.

As you share your elevator speech, watch the facial response of your listener, and pay attention what they say. If you’re not getting the response you’re looking for, tweak your words.

Next steps

I challenge you to put some serious thought into this. Work through the formula and get your elevator speech together. Try it out and see what happens.

I bet you’ll find that you have more people wanting to know more about your nonprofit’s work and wanting to help you.