What is an elevator speech and why should I have one?

One of the most important things nonprofit leaders can do, especially when they’re the spokespeople for their organization, is to develop an elevator speech. Being able to sum up your programs and services and communicate them clearly and quickly, are the most effective ways to reach out at any encounter.

An elevator speech is simply a short description of what you do and why it’s important. You should be able to deliver it in the time it takes to take an elevator ride (typically 30 seconds or less).

An elevator speech should say a lot in a few words. It should be an overview of your organization and its programs and services. And it should grab a listener’s attention and make him or her want to know more.

Let’s say you run a health clinic that provides services to young children from low-income families. Your elevator speech for a funder interested in child health or community development might look something like this:

The Impact Clinic provides critical health services to low-income children under the age of 2. In 10 years, our volunteer doctors and nurses have delivered check-ups, immunizations, screenings for developmental delays and health issues, and medication to over 30,000 children. We work on a sliding scale basis that covers 70 percent of our costs. We’re the only clinic of our kind within 10 miles and we serve more than half of the area’s low-income families.

Parents tell us if Impact Clinic didn’t exist, their children wouldn’t receive the care they need. That’s exactly the problem the Metro neighborhood has. Impact is the nearest clinic and it takes two hours to reach us by bus. Children there are 25 percent less likely to receive on-time immunizations as kids in our service area. That’s why we’re partnering with the Metro Community Foundation to build a new clinic in Metro. I’d love to talk with you more about our partners, our approach and alignment with your funding interests. May I have your card to schedule a meeting?

In this example, we’ve highlighted why our fictitious organization is essential to the local community, quickly conveyed what the organization does and for whom, pulled out key stats and used the data as a lead-in to an expansion project.

Note that we’ve also included a specific call to action at the end that makes the nonprofit responsible for following up. This puts the speaker in control of next steps, which is important given that your ultimate goal should be to get an opportunity to share more detail.

When developing your elevator speech:

  • Think about your market and the problems you’re trying to help solve.
  • Think about solutions. What does success look like?
  • Highlight your organization’s unique differences. What makes you stand out in the market?
  • Consider using stories. Can you incorporate a personal experience that illustrates your impact in the community?

An elevator speech helps to reinforce your brand. It allows everyone – staff, management and the board – to speak with one voice and tell a concise, compelling story.

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