When several years ago, Alix Wooding and her then team at Alzheimer’s Society won the partnership (worth £7.5 million) with UK retailer Tesco, it was the second time her charity had won the Tesco partnership in a decade. For the same charity to be selected again so soon was unprecedented. And it was not through luck.
Though the pitch included some fabulous touches, more importantly, they did not make the fundamental errors of pitch design that happen in 95% of corporate fundraising pitches.
I’ve spent 14 years as a fundraiser, pitch coach and trainer to fundraisers. And after conducting interviews with some of the most successful pitchers on the planet, I have noticed fascinating patterns in how the regular winners approach pitch design. Their habits are different from those who work hard but usually fail to get through.
Here are seven of the mistakes that are most likely to sabotage all the hard work – and how to solve them.
Mistake One – To fail to sign off a strategy of what you should (and should not) pitch for).
Too many corporate fundraisers end up pitching for the wrong things. At some level they knew all along that this potential partnership didn’t make sense and couldn’t be won. The pitch process takes so much time that you can’t let this happen. What’s the solution?
Avoid pitching for things you could never have won by having a logical written-down strategy for what partnerships you will (and will not!) pitch for.
Write a list of the 20 – 25 companies that you would most like to work with and for whom a partnership would make sense. Be clear on the rationale for why these are on your list. Get this strategy signed off by your manager. Stick to it, and save many hours of stress and wasted effort.
Mistake Two – To not seek enough insight into why the pitch panel would say YES.
Most fundraisers read the brief carefully… and then get started in Power-point.
The people with enviable win rates read the brief, but then do a whole lot more. The pitching team that is most determined to truly understand their audience will always have the edge. But the written brief never tells the whole story. Some issues are always more important than others. Some may not even be written down. Only by finding out what the key issues are will you have a hope of designing a pitch that shows you are the best organisation to deliver what the partner really values.
There are many ways to gather this insight, but one thing that few people do is field research, to test your assumptions. When, several years ago, NSPCC had the chance to pitch to the company Superdrug, they realised that none of the pitch team usually shopped there.
So they each wrote down what they knew about the store. Then they all went shopping, and noticed what it was like. After the visit, every single one discovered they’d revised their view on some aspect of Superdrug. They used this more accurate insight to build their pitch and won the Charity of the Year partnership.
Mistake Three – To cover too many ideas.
All the great pitches are built around a single idea. In July 2005 the pitch team from London 2012 to host the Olympics were not favourites. On paper, Paris were way ahead. But London built their entire presentation around the idea ‘London 2012 will inspire young people to do sport’, and they won. Work out why the partnership with you will be genuinely win / win. Now find the concept at the heart of this. Build your pitch around this central idea. Focus is power.
Mistake Four – To bury the lead idea.
Do not bury your cornerstone idea ten minutes into the presentation. Grab their attention so they are eager to listen from the start. Spend the rest of the pitch making that idea more tangible and persuasive. This is how Sorcha Chipperfield of Cancer Fund for Children won a lucrative partnership with Belfast City Centre. While the other charities spent the first couple of minutes explaining their organisation’s background, top-line strategy etc, from the very start, Sorcha told the panel things they couldn’t help be interested in.
Mistake Five – To focus the pitch (and your energy) on what you want.
Instead, focus first on how you can help them. You can only get heat from a fire after you have given it fuel. If you would like to win a partnership, your pitch should be primarily focussed on how the partnership would add value to the company. Of course you need to be able to explain with conviction the difference the partnership would make to the beneficiaries you serve, but in most corporate fundraising pitches, this should not be the lion’s share of the pitch.
For maximum persuasiveness, your focus should be on them, not on what you gain. An excellent and very readable book on this subject is The Go Giver.
Mistake Six – To fail to help them feel the key idea.
The fundamental error that most pitchers make is they think their role is to give information. Whereas in fact, their role is to find the things, and the way to say them, that will persuade the pitch panel to say YES.
There are numerous ways to help your audience feel (rather than only think). One is to find ways to ‘future pace’, that is, show the partner what success will look and feel like. As corporate fundraising expert Jonathan Andrews explains, when Alzheimer’s Society pitched dementia buses to Tesco (which did not yet exist) they showed them a mocked up version of what the bus might look like. Using 2D or 3D mock-ups of the key idea stimulates the audience’s brain in a way that words alone do not.
Mistake Seven – To choke your message with cluttered slides.
If you’re using slides, each slide should contain one idea, and ideally be five words or fewer. Sometimes just an image will work much better than words. Explain the concept verbally, rather than putting it all in words on the screen. Some of the outstanding pitchers I’ve interviewed sometimes don’t use slides at all.