Are Your Creepy Pitches Spooking Your Supporters? Pitch Fail and How To Fix It! | Beth's Blog

Are Your Creepy Pitches Spooking Your Supporters? Pitch Fail and How To Fix It!

Digital Strategy

Flickr Photo by Las-Initially

Note from Beth: Last year at the NTC, I facilitated a plenary session on learning from failure – a topic that I’ve been curating for years and lately, have seen a number of failfests and failcons popping up including these two coming up in November – in NYC and SF.    One big nonprofit fail is crafting effective pitches or calls to action that align across a ladder of engagement.    Erica Mills has shared this guest post about why some nonprofit pitches fail and some tips on how to fix them.  But wait, there’s more.

She is offering to fix your pitch.   Put one of your pitches in the comments and/or tweet it using #FixMyPitch. The three pitches that are most in need of fixing will receive a free copy of Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. The pitch most in need of fixing will also get a free Extreme Pitch Makeover phone coaching session with Erica. The results of the Extreme Makeover will be revealed in a follow up post on this blog. Contest ends October 25, 2013, so start pitching!

Are your creepy pitches spooking your supporters? Guest post by Erica Mills

Dear Reader,

I know we don’t really know each other, but I have a quick favor to ask. Will you buy my book? You can find it on Amazon. I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks heaps,

Why, dear reader, are you not lunging for that link? Stuffing your basket with books? Gobbling up the opportunity like a pint-size princess snarfing Snickers straight from her trick-or-treat bag?

I’ll tell you why: Because we don’t know each other and, as such, my pitch—rather than being engaging—probably seemed creepy. You thought (and rightfully so): “Why is this lady, who I do not know, asking me to buy her book? What’s up with that? Take your creepy pitch elsewhere, lady!”

NEWSFLASH: You have very likely delivered a creepy pitch that is spookily similar to the one above. Maybe it wasn’t you, per se, who penned the pitch, but organizations send out appeal letters all the time that are just as creepy as my request for you to buy my book. It looks something like this:

Dear Friend,

You know how important our mission is. People in our community benefit from our work every day. Demand for our services has gone up every month for the past 38 months. We need help. Will you make a donation today?


ED of Organization Awesome

Now you might’ve added in a few more stats, maybe even a story or two about the clients you serve, but the fundamental mistake would’ve remained the same: you would’ve done the equivalent of asking someone you barely know to marry you. #Creepy

Creepy is great for a Halloween costume, but not so great for raising funds so you can change the world.

Let’s look at what’s really going on here:  You, like most people on a mission to make the world a better place, probably have a pitch. Singular. Only one. You lovingly refer to it as your ‘elevator pitch’. Its job is to close a deal while you glide up and down in an elevator.

How very Mad Men of you. This thinking harkens back to a time when three martini lunches were the norm, women wore pantyhose to work every day, and deals were opened and closed in a single elevator ride. Good times. Happy times (save for the panty hose). But not the times we live in.

Start thinking pitches. Plural. Why plural? Because really what you need are pitches that align with each step along the Engagement Cycle.  More ‘door openers’, less ‘deal closers’.

Like MC Hammer (minus the pants), lemme break it down:

1.  KNOW: The ‘know’ pitch answers the question: ‘What do you do?’ You want a pitch that is remarkable—meaning interesting enough for people to remark on it to you and (pay attention because this next part is very important in terms of word-of-mouth marketing) to others.

2.  UNDERSTAND: Once you’re on someone’s radar, i.e. they know you exist, you need to make sure they really, truly understand what you do and why you do it. Of all the organizations out there, why should they engage with yours? What makes you special? Compelling? Unlike any other? Your ‘understand’ pitch answers these questions. It answers the question: ‘Why you?’

3.  ENGAGE: Donate. Advocate. Volunteer. Buy. This pitch answers the question: ‘How can I engage?’ This is the pitch that moves people from learning to doing.


[NOTE: For all your pitches, you absolutely, positively must avoid jargon and the word ‘provide.’ That is non-negotiable.]

Most people’s elevator pitch tries to mush all three of these pitches into one. And, worse yet, many only have an engage pitch. No knowing. No understanding. How can that be? Easy. You live and breathe your mission. You know its every nook and cranny. As such, you think to yourself, “How can other people not know about our work? How can they not understand the awesomeness that is our mission? How can they not see that the only logical thing to do is give us scads of money?! Egads, what is wrong with these people?!!!!!”

What’s ‘wrong’ with these people is they have other stuff going on. Kids to pick up. Dogs to feed. Wine to sip. Meals to make. On a daily basis, your mission is not their tippy top priority.

Getting and staying on people’s radar takes time, energy and patience. But take heart: if to know you is to love you, imagine what will happen when someone knows AND understands you. It’ll  be a love-fest that’ll make even Romeo & Juliette jealous. Your patience will pay off.

To avoid creepy pitching, map out how you are going to gently, yet purposefully, move each group (e.g. newsletter subscribers, event attendees, one-time donors, monthly donors, etc) along the engagement cycle throughout the course of the year. The cycle should start at ‘know’ and work its way through a lot of understanding before any talk of engaging.

Be honest as you do your mapping. For instance, just because someone came to your annual fundraiser, that doesn’t mean they really, truly know you. Most people attend events because their friend invited them, not because they care about your cause. (Sorry, buzz kill. I know.) People at events spend a lot of time catching up with friends and catching up on email. You have to give them lots of opportunities throughout the year to get to know and understand you.

Know. Understand. Engage. In that order.

Is this pitching stuff easy? No. I do it for a living. I’m a consultant and university professor who specializes in pitching, for crying out loud, and I still mess up! You will, too. Failing is healthy and it’s part of the deal. When in doubt, take a failure bow and move on. Hopefully, the know, understand, engage approach will make ditching creepy pitching a little less scary.


Still stuck on how to fix your pitches? Put one of your pitches in the comments and/or tweet it using #FixMyPitch. The three pitches that are most in need of fixing will receive a free copy of Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. The pitch most in need of fixing will also get a free Extreme Pitch Makeover phone coaching session with Erica. The results of the Extreme Makeover will be revealed in a follow up post on this blog. Contest ends October 25, 2013, so start pitching!

Erica is an internationally recognized expert on how to use words to make the world a better place. She heads up Claxon, a company on a mission to teach those doing good how to get noticed. She is on faculty at the University of Washington and Seattle University, and has lectured at the University of Chicago. Mills is a lover of words in general, and verbs and adverbs in particular.



22 Responses

  1. […] Are Your Creepy Pitches Spooking Your Supporters? Pitch Fail and How To Fix It! […]

  2. Carol says:

    Grate Article . I have Read it . Thanks for share Informative Article.

  3. MKE123 is an online community designed for anyone passionate about our city, and the vital organizations dedicated to making it a better place. MKE123 is a nonprofit sector collaborative, managed by the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.
    I am so in need of help, I am not even sure this counts as a pitch.

    Who is MKE123 for?

    MKE123 is for everyone!

    Do you work at a nonprofit organization?
    Do you volunteer, donate, or value nonprofit organizations?
    Do you use the services of nonprofit organizations?
    Then MKE123 is for you!

  4. GIIP says:

    Great article! We teach our students about elevator pitches and this is definitely going to be required reading.

  5. Rob says:

    Great article. I just started at the Seacoast Science Center and am learning a ton including our pitch. What do you think…

    “The Seacoast Science Center is a non-profit marine science education organization located on the New Hampshire coast. Ocean education is what we do. We use programs and exhibits to inform people, from toddlers to grandparents about why a healthy ocean is important. We educate to motivate. We want everyone to recognize and understand that the things that people do every day have an impact on the health of the ocean and that the health of the ocean has an impact on their daily lives. Invest in us and you are building a community of ocean stewards that care about the future of the seas. A healthy ocean drives the quality of life for future generations.”

  6. Shannon says:

    The Pacific Education Institute is double missioned and double wordy! A lot to take in on a first date! A full measure education, and a full measure environmental – here is our pitch:

    The future of our planet relies on the abilities of today’s children to visualize and manage an environmentally healthy world that sustains life. By connecting students with local environments while engaging them in real-world project based learning, we are working towards a solution. Pacific Education Institute (PEI) is a nonprofit 501(C)3 that creates and delivers frameworks for students to learn more effectively and helps teachers through rigorous academic FieldSTEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) increase the number of students that understand the complex relationship between the environment, economy and human needs.
    We take K-12 school kids outside, anywhere, and challenge them to drastically improve their thinking skills so that they are able to solve the real-world environmental and economic problems facing our communities.

  7. belinda says:

    here’s our pitch – does it need fixing?

    Muse&Co. are a team of professional matchmakers. We work with relationship ready gentlemen who are frustrated by the inability of online channels to connect them with the quality women they’d be most compatible with.

  8. […] The #FixMyPitch Contest October 22, 2013 By Erica Mills Leave a Comment This week, Beth Kanter and I are hosting a #FixMyPitch Contest. […]

  9. Lydia says:

    United Way’s Free Tax Campaign helped 14,900 families file their taxes, keep more of what they earn, and save for the future. At 18 sites across the county, our talented 700-volunteer team brought $22 million in refunds, including $8 million in EITC credits, back to Kimg County residents.

    We’re really hoping you like numbers enough to follow all of that. If so, you’d be a great tax volunteer in 2014. Please?

  10. Philip Koziol says:

    My pitch:
    “Have I got a deal for you!”

  11. ann Rosenfield says:

    Cold pitch – in response to the question what does your charity do?

    “WoodGreen develops solutions for complex social problems. For example, we have an employment program for single moms on social assistance that provides all the supports they need to succeed including affordable housing, child care, and tuition paid college diploma. This helps them find family sustaining jobs. A pro bono assessment by Boston Consulting group found for every $1 spent on this program, society reaps $4 in benefits.

    Could I meet with you and get some advice on raising the visibility of this program?

    #FIXMYPITCH (please)

  12. I am impressed by the way you covered this topic. It is not often I come across a blog with captivating articles like yours . That was a very helpful piece.
    Pakistani Advertisements Company

  13. We give parents and organizations tools to protect their children from sexual abuse.

  14. Colleen Cole says:

    Great article. I have an issue with my pitch and with networking – two of the biggest hurdles for me. Here goes:

    “HumanFerret works with you, your business and your clients to build positive word of mouth about your business online.”

    It’s too wordy for a quick pitch, and isn’t rounded out enough for a full pitch. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  15. […] Fix your pitch (aka “don’t be creepy”). […]

  16. Lesley Krone says:

    We believe stable homes lead to stable communities. We promote the value of a stable home through several programs that help families find and retain affordable housing, with the utilmate goal being sustainable homeownership.

    Needing a fix badly! Thanks!

  17. S. Clukey says:

    I’m too late for your contest, but I’m about to end my term s president of a 501(c)6. Of our current five (which includes me), only one board member will continue in 2014. We’ve explained what we’ve done for our membership and called for nominations, but have gotten only one. We’re considering this killer pitch: “The deadline for nominations will be extended until November 5, 2013, since the Board has received only one nomination to date. If members don’t step up, this 27-year-old organization will be forced to fold in a couple of months. No website membership list, no logo on your own website, no program meetings, no networking nights, no educational workshops, and no newsletter going forward.”
    I know it sounds terrible, but we’ve tried for two years to get more members to realize the benefits of volunteering without success. Please help!

  18. This is great! I would add that it’s not only when raising money that we creep people out; I see it in advocacy alerts/appeals, too. And, worse, sometimes then we are quick to assume that people are ‘apathetic’ if they don’t respond with our desired action, when it is very likely that they are just recoiling from our off-putting request. I don’t know if it’s possible, but it would be awesome to see some of the before and afters from the pitch fix!

  19. […] series of pitches. I went into this when introducing the #FixMyPitch contest I’m doing with Beth Kanter, so you can get all the details in that post. The bottom line is you need to divide your pitches […]

  20. […] at each of the aforementioned toolkits, sharing before and after posts featuring the winners of the #FixMyPitch contest, and looking at the very best words for you to use in […]

  21. […] may recall that we teamed up with Beth Kanter to do something called the #FixMyPitch contest. Out of a bevvy of entries, we ended up with two Grand Prize Winners—Seacoast Science Center and […]

  22. […] Children’s Hunger Alliance submitted their pitch via Twitter as part of the #FixMyPitch contest we did with Beth Kanter. They weren’t a winner because their pitch didn’t need enough […]