Pitching Your Charity to a Major Donor—The Do’s and Don’ts

Not every donor is necessarily going to come to you—for larger donations and sponsorships, you’ll have to pitch your charity. Here’s how.

Every successful charity has a few major donors or sponsors that give them the lion’s share of their funds. If you want to count yours among that number, you’re going to have to practice courting those donors. Doing so is very different from pitching to the average person, however.

There are a number of things you’ll want to do—and things you’ll want to avoid—that wouldn’t even come into play with regular donation drives.

Do: Learn To Listen

We’ve all met that one guy at a party who drones incessantly about himself without letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. We all know how annoying that is, right? Do you want to be the pitch meeting equivalent of that guy?

If not, don’t spend your entire time talking about your charity. Communication is a two-way street. Make an effort to engage your prospective sponsor.

Don’t: Focus Solely On Your Charity’s Needs

Ideally, you’re here to raise money for your cause. That’s a given—and I guarantee your donor or sponsor knows that already.

You want to take into account what you can do for your donor—not what they can do for you. With that in mind, listen to your prospect talk about what they are looking for. Are they a Corporate Social Responsibility executive looking to assist your charity in running a joint event, or simply a philanthropist who wants to spread some of their hard-earned wealth?

The needs of your donor can and should change your pitch to them.

Do: Strive To Understand Your Donor’s Industries

Do you understand the industry in which your donor works? Are you aware of the current trends they face and current events which might make your charity a great choice for them? The more knowledgeable you are about your donor, the better. If you’re able to show them you have an understanding of their challenges and victories, they’re going to be much more engaged with you.

Don’t: Focus on Problems

Most donors don’t need you to spend half an hour going over the problems your charity is trying to solve. They’re usually smart enough to work out those details on their own. Instead, what you should focus on is your solution to those problems—on precisely what your charity is doing to better the world.

Do: Tell A Story

You’ve doubtless heard that all the most successful marketers are skilled storytellers. Rather than giving a boring presentation, they’re able to tell an engaging, interesting narrative about their brand’s beginnings, goals, and values. Those skills are every bit as valuable in a pitch meeting as they are in a marketing campaign.

Don’t treat your meeting with your sponsor as a presentation. Instead, treat it as you telling them the story of your cause and your charitable organization. Treat it as you telling them how with their help, you can save the world.

Don’t: Use Jargon

Jargon has its place in every industry. For those in the know, it’s useful shorthand to help us avoid having to spell out abstract concepts every time they come up in conversation. Here’s the thing, though—your sponsors aren’t necessarily going to be in the know.

Jargon that might be understandable and obvious to you will come across to them as obtuse and confusing at best, condescending at worst. Your best bet is to avoid spouting buzzwords altogether. If there are any high-level concepts you need to bring up, figure out how to explain them in layman’s terms.

Do: Be Professional, Patient, and Persistent

Pitching to a sponsor or major donor is a much more protracted, prolonged affair than pitching to an ordinary consumer. Rather than simply making a pitch and raking in some money, you should look at this as a courtship. Your relationship with a sponsor doesn’t start in the pitch room—rather, it starts with you warming them up to the idea of a pitch (more on that in a moment).

For every interaction you engage in, consider how you come across. Be quick, responsive, and clear in all your communiques. And don’t be afraid to follow-up if you don’t receive a reply initially.

Don’t: Pester People

As an addendum to the above: most of the organizations and individuals you’ll target with your efforts are extremely busy people. Trying to contact them every day, several times a day is just going to get on their nerves—it won’t make them likelier to support your cause. Ideally, you’ll want to give it a day between each of your attempts to contact them.

And if they don’t respond by the third attempt, just assume they aren’t interested. It’s not the end of the world—there are plenty of other donors out there you can reach out to, instead.

Do: Keep Your Pitch Simple

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or try to explain quantum physics with your donation pitch. Keep it down to a simple message: who you are, what you do, why you do it, and how the person you’re speaking to can help. That’s all you need to say—quick, easy, and to-the-point.

Most corporations and major investors are so used to dealing with people who beat around the bush and try to sell them nonsense that they’ll likely appreciate the candor.

Don’t: Do “Cold” Asks

Here’s where it gets really complicated. You can’t just reach out and ask for a huge donation straight out of the blue (well, you can—your attempt will probably fail, though). Instead, you need to warm up your donor to the idea of working with you.

Engage with them on social media. Attend their public events. Offer them opportunities to get involved within your own organizations, and treat them as colleagues rather than potential donation funds.

Do: Prepare Adequately

Before you meet with a prospective donor, you need to ensure you’re fully prepared. What kind of questions will they ask? Who will do the talking? What pitch will you give, and how will you adjust that pitch on the fly to their responses?

They’ll be able to tell if you go in and try to wing it—so don’t.

Don’t: Forget Why You’re Asking In The First Place

Last but certainly not least, it’s easy to lose sight of the reason behind all this amidst all the schmoozing. Never forget who you are, or why you do what you do. You’re here to change the world for the better—and everything you do should ultimately be in the pursuit of that goal.