By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on September 23, 2013

The ability to tell your nonprofit story in the time it takes to get to the next floor is a powerful thing.

The ability for all of a nonprofit's stakeholders — executives, staff, volunteers and board — to tell their story is critical.

But just telling that story isn't enough. You also need the ability to give the "elevator speech," a super-short version of the story that wraps client stories with that particular nonprofit's solutions.

The term elevator speech is based on the premise that sometimes you run into or meet new people in an elevator presenting you with an opportunity to share your cause, thus your "speech" should be deliverable within the time it takes for an elevator to move from floor to floor.

I am not a fan of scripting elevator speeches. Using another's words is awkward. At OneOC, we recommend a four-part outline. Your stakeholders, armed with the four parts, fashion the elevator speech in their own words.

Grab attention. Use a compelling data point to capture attention. Do not overwhelm or confuse with too many numbers, just a single, mind-blowing statistic that prompts the listener to think (or say), "Wow, I should hear more."

Orangewood Foundation shares this one: "On average, over 35,000 cases of child abuse are reported each year in Orange County. Of these, approximately 10 percent of the victims are removed from their caregivers due to unsafe conditions. Many have experienced the most serious forms of physical and sexual abuse."

That first number — 35,000 — is shocking (and horrific), and it certainly makes you think about what is happening to our kids. It also communicates the dire stakes that drive Orangewood's mission.

Another tip: Illustrate what you do with a story. Pull at heart strings with a story that speaks of one single client.

Also, don't be afraid to make The Ask. What is your call to action? Invite your audience to an event, to volunteer, to learn more about your organization's mission and stories, to be a part of your successes.

And, finally, go ahead and brag.

This is where you get to tell about the many wonderful services your organization provides. "Orangewood Children's Foundation is working on long-term solutions to these issues. Programs offering emergency assistance, job placement, transitional housing, peer counseling and scholarships to give children the chance to succeed, despite their painful pasts." Just keep in mind, do not lead with the brag, it should follow the story and stats.

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