Identifying Problems Is Great, But You Still Need Solutions

The Huffington Post published an article by Michael Kaiser on 5/21/2012 where he examines a well worn problem within arts groups: board atrophy during fundraising campaigns. Everything Kaiser identifies is spot on but the article comes up short in with any suggestions on how to solve the problem. As such, let’s see about picking up some of Kaiser’s slack with some nuts-and-bolts tools you can use to bolster board members.

One aspect I regularly encounter with board development work is arming members with 101 level tools to help them get past initial trepidation; and one of the most valuable tools is to create an efficient elevator speech.

Simply put, consistency builds confidence and requiring board members to memorize the elevator speech is one of the most effective methods for initiating action and improving conversion. And yes, I said “require” and “memorize” in the same sentence.

The best elevator speeches should last less than one minute, and even if it doesn’t include the actual ask it should include the fundraising campaign set-up; think of it like a donation icebreaker.

HBS elevator pitch builder

What each organization will need to do is actually write the speech and to that end, there’s a terrific online tool I recommended last year from Harvard Business School that makes short work of crafting creative elevator speeches.

The only drawback is it is entirely Flash based so if you want to access it through an iPhone or iPad you are out of luck.

The tool walks you through four steps related to each critical item of an effective elevator speech (who, what, why, and goal) and then analyzes your efforts and offers suggestions. A series of recommended words are offered up at each step in the process to help you past any mental blocks and you can skip between sections as desired.

Once you’re satisfied with the end result, you can email or print your speech. How cool is that?

In fact, I recently used the tool to create a fundraising pitch for fellow board members at a performing arts group here in Chicago and the final version came to 82 words and takes approximately 21 seconds to deliver. It covers who the group is, what we do, why we’re unique/important, covers our recent success and sets up the groundwork for our contingency fund matching gift campaign.

To help build continuity with the group’s message, the elevator speech includes some of the most common words our patrons used to describe what they love about the group and our concerts vis-a-vis a recent patron survey.

In the end, this is a simple, effective tool to jump start board action.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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