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Ideas on Entrepreneurship
May 25, 2017 | Cara Lee

Perfecting Your Pitch for Social Impact Investing and Nonprofit Funding

A persuasive and compelling pitch—when entrepreneurs present their ideas to prospective investors—is necessary to propel most businesses. For social enterprises, in particular, it is the ticket to receiving impact investment and nonprofit grants. At most competitions, a typical pitch lasts only a few minutes, but perfecting it takes hours of crafting, editing, practicing, and fine-tuning. Like the social impact ecosystem itself, pitching requires feedback and support from all parties involved. Read on for steps on how to prepare and deliver a pitch, including advice from our own Fellowship program portfolio managers.

Decide Your Angle and Approach

What is the best way to explain your social enterprise's mission and the problem it is solving? And what kind of framing will result in the social impact investment or nonprofit funding you need to get your startup running? To answer those questions, we checked in with Echoing Green’s Fellowship portfolio managers who help develop the leadership of social entrepreneurs as they grow their organizations. They stress the importance of telling a story: it's a great way to simultaneously communicate your business's initiatives while creating excitement around the solution you are offering. Think about your audience, then write out a brainstorm of what would be meaningful to your audience, and what you and your social enterprise are doing to support your cause. Write your presentation out in a logical order, and include a short story or anecdotes.  

"Lead with your connection to the work," said Nashay Jones, portfolio manager for Echoing Green's Global Fellows. "Instead of getting caught up in the technicalities, lead with your 'why.'" Tiffany Thompson, portfolio manager for Echoing Green's Black Male Achievement Fellows, agreed. "Ask yourself: Who are you doing this for? Is there an actual person you can talk about? That can give your story real character."

Jason Terrell '15, co-founder of Profound Gentlemen, demonstrates the power of a connected story in his pitch at the Social Ventures Partners' SEED20 OnStage 2017 where he won the Wells Fargo People's Choice Grand Prize. Instead of pitching statistics about the programming, Jason weaves in an anecdote about one of his former students before connecting that story back to the crux of his work. The story is a simple, tangible way to talk about the necessity of Profound Gentlemen's work and humanize the impact Profound Gentlemen is making. With this effective storytelling, Jason secured $20,000 from nonprofit funding sources for Profound Gentlemen.

Practice and Seek Feedback

According to our Fellowship program portfolio managers, a common pitfall for entrepreneurs is when pitches are simply a narrative of their organization's business plan. In an effort to secure social enterprise funding, sometimes entrepreneurs place too much emphasis on the technical aspects of their business, which can cause a pitch to lose its spark. Using too much jargon or technical terminology within a pitch can distract or repel social impact investors. "Break down your social enterprise's plan in a more digestible way," Tiffany said.

Neil Yeoh, portfolio manager for Echoing Green's Climate Fellows, has seen this problem especially with business leaders in the science, technology, and engineering fields. To avoid this, Neil advises these leaders to practice pitching to people outside of these fields. "Pitch to friends and family or people you have access to," Neil said. "If they don't understand something in your pitch, ask them why."

Steph Speirs '15, co-founder of Solstice, uses plain language to pitch the organization. Solstice provides community-based solar power to underserved households in the United States. Instead of falling prey to “over-explaining” Solstice's business plan, including a deep dive into solar power and renewable energy, Steph delivered a pitch tailored for every person in the audience at the 2017 Techstars Boston Demo Day.

If somebody is not easily grasping what you are proposing during your practice pitch, get to the root of what they don’t understand, and determine how to make the story clearer. Using examples and anecdotes that your audience can relate to their own lives is crucial when pitching for social impact investing and pursuing nonprofit funding sources. 

Know Your Audience

Similar to preparing for any presentation, make sure to research ahead of time who will be watching your pitch. Find out who will be in the audience and whether or not they may be familiar with your pitch topic. For pitch competitions, spend time researching who the judges are and what causes they support. "You don't go into a business negotiation without researching what the investors do or don't know," Neil said. "You have to be aware of who the judges are—it's a simple thing that could give you an edge."

Being familiar with the space in which you are pitching will also help your presentation. "It makes a big difference whether there are five people you are pitching to or 100," Tiffany said. "If it's a huge stage, walk around a bit, so the people in the back feel as connected to your story as the people in the front."

Neil has seen pitches fall flat when entrepreneurs who are more scientific or technical go off on tangents. This can cause the pitch to lose the power that gets investors excited and could cost you the social impact investing and nonprofit funding you are seeking. If you know you have a tendency to get into concepts that any person off the street would find complicated, find a way to simplify that part, or leave it out.

Know Yourself

While knowing your audience is crucial, being aware of how you pitch is just as important. For partners and co-founders, strategically think about who is presenting. If there is one partner who is a more natural public speaker, use that to your advantage. "Sometimes it's better to have the non-technical person describe a technical part," Neil said. "When there's a lot of technical language and processes, people just don't get it."

Although practicing will ensure you know your pitch inside and out, you are bound to face some nerves come pitch day. Our portfolio managers offered some helpful advice to build confidence and help get the social impact investment or nonprofit grants you need.

"Find comfort that you know your work inside and out," Nashay said. "That will allow you to shine, and you won't be as nervous."

"Pitching doesn't have to be related to personality type," Neil said. "Even if you're introverted, that doesn't mean you can't give a good pitch. It can be learned." 

"It helps to remember that it's not about you," Tiffany said. "It's about your work and who you are helping." 

2016 Echoing Green Fellow Jacob Allen pitching at our 2016 Big Bold Benefit.
Go Deeper

Other tips from our portfolio managers:

  • Avoid using props—they can be distracting.
  • Experiment with placing a strategic pause in your pitch. This can be an effective way to emphasize a notable point.
  • Try using a phrase or theme repeatedly throughout your pitch to make a point stick. (Watch Jason Terrell do this in the video below.) 
  • Don't move unless it is intentional—this is especially important for when more than one person is delivering the pitch together.
  • Be authentic and sincere.