Shameless Pitches

I recently attended a conference where the last general session was billed out as a compilation of the best fundraising ideas of the year. This was the session “not to be missed!” Now, you know how you get that groggy, if-I-have-to-put-on-my-smiley-face-one-more-time feeling at the tail end of a conference? Well, I powered through that. I got myself geared up and ready to be inspired.

Total disappointment. Instead of “15 Great Ideas” I got to sit through 15 shameless pitches. Then it got me thinking. Ironically, the big idea I took away from this session was more of a things not to do list.

Here we go:

10 Things Not To Do When Speaking at a Conference

1. Don’t Sell
How annoying is it to pay to go to a conference to learn new things and then have to sit through a series of capabilities presentations? People aren’t stupid. Focus on what you can give away, not what you can take away.

2. Don’t Forget the Passion
I had a college professor that said 80% of what we communicate is emotion and 20% is information. If you get bogged down trying to get in all the right points, you often miss the point.

3. Don’t Read From A Piece of Paper
Preparation is good, but the best presentations I’ve experienced always have a hint of improv. Remember, your audience is what is most important, not your own personal agenda.

4. Don’t Do Bullets on PowerPoint
I swear, PowerPoint has made us all dumber presenters. No one wants to read bullet points on a screen—no one.

5. Don’t Forget to Make Sure the Presentation Makes Sense to Someone Other Than You
I’ve added this one specifically because there was one presentation I saw that was so unbelievably out there, everyone was checking their coffee to make sure they weren’t dosed with something.

6. Don’t Try to Be Too Cute
Creativity is great, but content is king. Don’t try to trump clarity with persuasion.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Make it Interactive
Give the audience a chance to engage and be part of the presentation. Let them stop you, ask questions, raise concerns, and help to drive the agenda. A dialogue is always more interesting than a monologue.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Inspire People
What has happened to vision? Give people something big to believe in and then show them how they can achieve it. Challenge them to apply what you’ve taught them.

9. Don’t Tell Me Turn to The Person Sitting Next To Me and Have to Say Something Stupid
Really? How old are we?

10. Don’t Forget About The Cynical Blogger in the Crowd
The wrong message, to the wrong person, at the wrong time can be devastating. Check out the blog post I wrote about this topic: The Wrong Message, to the Wrong Person, at the Wrong Time (notice the utter hypocrisy here…shameless, huh?)


Don’t Ever Apologize for Asking for Money

As nonprofits, why do we feel so sheepish about asking for money?

Do we not believe that our causes are worthy of donor funding? I doubt it.

Do we think that asking someone to give a gift to our organization is offensive? Maybe.

But why do we feel this way? The reality is that every single organization on planet Earth asks for money. Some are nonprofits. Some are for profits. But they all ask for our money.

For profit organizations ask for your money in exchange for goods and services. They spend billions of dollars on advertising and marketing to target you with the right messaging and number of impressions to convince you that their product is uniquely suited to meet your needs. Oh yeah, and they make billions of dollars in profits too. But have you ever been offended by a TV commercial for no other reason than the fact they asked you to buy their product?

So why do we get so bent out of shape when we receive direct mail and emails from nonprofit organizations that are doing truly meaningful work and making zero profit?

I think it comes down to two things: our own self-centeredness and a twisted perspective of how nonprofits should spend donor dollars.

On the self-centered bit, here is something to consider. When you give to a nonprofit, the benefit goes to someone else. I think we get ticked from repeated asks because on an unconscious level we are all pretty selfish. We would rather spend our hard-earned money on treats for ourselves. When we receive an opportunity to give, we gag because it reminds us that no matter how good a person we portray ourselves, we are secretly pretty selfish. But that’s just part of the problem.

The second issue is even more problematic for nonprofits. Somewhere at some point someone decided that in order to be “donor worthy” a nonprofit should only spend 25% of their expenses on “overhead” and the remaining 75% should go directly to programs. Here’s the fatal flaw in this approach—by keeping salaries low for staff members, and under spending on critical revenue drivers like marketing and fundraising, nonprofits will consistently fall short of their ultimate potential.

The staff compensation issue makes recruiting the necessary talent virtually impossible. In most instances, talented leaders have to make the decision to either make money or do good. Imagine if the compensation for a nonprofit executive was in line with the compensation of a for profit executive? Would we see more talent pursuing careers in the nonprofit sector? I think so.

Lack of spending on marketing initiatives is another part of the problem. Ironically, if nonprofits were not demonized for spending on things like branding and advertising, then they wouldn’t have to ask for money as often, and less people would be offended by the constant appeals for funds. Nonprofits ask for money in most of their communications because they have to. All messages are measured almost completely by ROI.

How Do We Change the Game for Nonprofits?

If you work at a nonprofit organization, imagine what you could do for your cause if you were able to compensate your staff appropriately and invest more dollars in branding, marketing, and advertising. How could this change the game for you?

Now what if every charitable organization was free of the same constraints? How might our culture change if suddenly nonprofits had much larger platforms to get their message out? Imagine watching television and seeing story after story of people’s lives being impacted through the work of nonprofits. How might that inspire philanthropy? What if messages promoting generosity became as prevalent in our world as messages promoting consumption?

Want to learn more? Check out Dan Pallotta’s new book, Uncharitable.