A Formula for Elevator Pitches

Guest post by Elisa Kosarin, Twenty Hats

The formula for a great elevator pitch.This post was originally published on Twenty Hats.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a training hosted by Volunteer Fairfax for RSVP workstation managers on the art of the elevator pitch.

I love the idea of the elevator pitch, because it is another way to use stories to engage prospective volunteers, but this time with the spoken word.

Basic Elements

Just like written stories, a good elevator pitch starts by examining your prospective volunteer’s needs and goals and connecting that information to your volunteer program.

Once you frame your pitch in this manner, the words fall right into place. Here is an example from the RSVP training, created by Alacia Earley of Cornerstones in Reston, Virginia.

“You mentioned that you enjoy working with children one on one. We have a volunteer position you might be interested in. Our Homework Help volunteers come in once a week for a few hours to work one-on-one or in small groups with students at our community centers in Reston. Regular volunteers often tell me how rewarding it is to see the students come in week after week and watch their grades and self-esteem improve from the tutoring. Let me know if you would be interested in becoming a Homework Helper.”

I like the way Alacia starts with her prospective volunteer’s desire to work with children. Then, she suggests a position and illustrates how it might meet her prospect’s needs. She also shares details that describe just how being a Homework Helper helps children and creates rewarding results for the volunteer.

Another Essential Element

There is just one other element that I add to a pitch, and that is your own emotional connection to your work. Think back to what brought you to your job in the first place. Was it your passion for the cause? The quality work provided by your program? The moving achievements of your clients? When your pitch comes from the heart, it resonates further with your listener.

Here is how another pitch might sound with that final link to your own enthusiasm. This one is for a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program:

“You might want to consider CASA volunteering. I know you are looking for a way to volunteer and have a direct, positive impact on a child’s life. That’s exactly what happens with CASA. I talked with a volunteer last week who came back from a court hearing, elated because she made a strong case for returning the child to his mother, and the judge backed up that recommendation. Those are the stories I like to hear, because I know how one volunteer can change the course of a child’s life for the better.”

I’ve Got a Formula – Try It!

Would you like to try your hand at crafting an elevator pitch? I have a simple formula I can share with you. I created it after searching the Internet for just such a formula and finding nothing that applied to volunteer engagement. My Elevator Pitch Planner shows you how to connect each piece of the process so that you create a compelling pitch ready to use when needed.

Email me to get your own free copy of the planner and my monthly updates. And please let me know how the pitch works out – or better yet, send me your successful pitches and I will post them on Twenty Hats.

Twenty Hats is authored by Elisa Kosarin, CVA, a nonprofit professional with 15+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, development, and volunteer management. She founded the site to help volunteer managers master the skills they need to make their jobs easier.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

The words you use to engage volunteers matter.Which is more likely to inspire you?

“Help support your community by volunteering to build houses for those in need.”

“Housing is a right everyone should have. Create new neighbors by lending a hand!”

Whatever the purpose: engaging volunteers, raising money, promoting an event, etc. – the words you use matter. Words with the highest value (i.e. the words most likely to engage your audience), are unique, specific, and  easy to understand.

Make Them Unique

Why are unique words so important? People are much more likely to pay attention to new information. In fact, new information actually makes us feel good, physically. Novelty causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us pleasant sensations from the brain stem. Because of this excitement and pleasure, our brains are trained to pay attention to new things and overlook the old. Choosing words that are unique will make you stand out, and will draw people in.

The Marketplace of Words

You might be wondering, “How do I know if my words are unique?” Well, there’s a website for that.

MarketplaceOfWords.com Website Preview

Earlier this year, I researched the words most frequently used on nonprofit websites, and created the tool The Marketplace of Words. You can type your potential word in the box on the main page, and find out where and if it ranks in the top 1000 words most often found on nonprofit websites as of April 2014.

You can also browse the full lists in the Results tab. These include counts and percentages overall, in addition to breaking it down by part of speech. In the Getting Started tab, you can find advice on the most productive ways to use the tool.

The Marketplace doesn’t cover the other properties of high-value words, which are: Specific, and Easy to Understand. Here are quick explanations of why these are important to consider in addition to uniqueness:

Make Them Specific

What do you actually mean when you say community? How big is it and who is a part of it? There are so many methods of outreach; which are you referring to? These are examples of unanswered questions caused by vague words. Get specific! Instead of “utilizing a community outreach strategy”, say you’re “meeting face-to-face with residents of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.”

Make Them Easy to Understand

The simplest way to achieve clarity in writing is to write like you speak. If someone has to take the time to decipher your message, they most likely won’t. An easy test is to ask yourself, “Would I use this word, phrase or sentence in a casual conversation?” If the answer is no – revise it. Also, when you are considering a few good words, opt for the word with fewer syllables.

The last thing you want to do is bore your volunteers with overused words, or hit them with unclear jargon. They should be excited about the awesome work they’re doing, and you have the power to make that happen. So, go on now: Go get the most value for your words!

4 Ways to Create a Positive Reputation for Your Volunteer Program

Guest post by Kristina Richards

4 ways to create a positive reputation for your volunteer program‘Tis the season of giving, but before volunteers come running to your doors and you start cashing donation checks, you may need to reassure your supporter base about your organization’s reputability. Consumers are increasingly savvy each year, and to ensure that they are willing to get involved with your organization, you need to look as reputable as possible. By understanding the importance of the following four elements, ensure your charity’s reputation looks stellar and protect your community from scams:

1. Online Reputation

Everyone from college applicants to business executives needs to pay attention to their online reputation, and charities are no exception to this rule. Rody Moore, the founder of Genbook, a small business marketing firm, advises clients to engage four simple rules when it comes to online management. In a recent Mashable.com article, Moore explains the importance of:

  • Paying attention to what your customers (or volunteers) are saying
  • Generating more reviews when possible
  • Promoting your reputation through social media sites
  • Responding quickly to any complaints that arise

Both volunteers to your program and recipients of your charity have the opportunity to sing your praises or lambast your efforts online, but only you have the power to deal with negative reports and encourage increased positive exposure. Talk to people who have received your services as well as people who have volunteered for your organization and ask them to post positive reviews online.

2. Transparency

Scam-savvy volunteers will take the time to research your organization before they are willing to donate time or money. To encourage their involvement, ensure you are running a transparent operation. Check your organization’s profile at Give.org, the Better Business Bureau’s online source for charity reports and standards. If you find any incorrect information, contact the BBB as soon as possible to make the necessary adjustments. Another great place to make sure your info is up-to-date is Guidestar.org.

3. Charity Phishing

A decade ago, charity fishing was just a kid’s game played at fundraising bazaars, but now, the phrase has taken on a new spelling and a new meaning. Charity phishing scams are one of the biggest scams to threaten consumers over the holidays. To safeguard your email list, ensure that you have a strong password and avoid accessing your list over a shared Wi-Fi system, as this makes it easy for hackers to gather the details they need for a charity phishing scam.

4. Educate Your Volunteers and Donors

The best phishing scam protection is knowledge, and because not every scam can be avoided, you need to educate your volunteers and donors about how to spot scams. If your email list is compromised, the phishing email will likely come from an address that looks similar to yours or an address that is cloaked by your organization’s name. The email will encourage people to donate to your cause, but instead of bringing them to your website, the email will direct them to a phishing website. Once they enter their information there, the scammers can take off on a credit card spending spree. The more your organization’s participants know about these scams, the easier it will be for them to avoid them.

How do you safeguard the reputation of your organization during the holidays? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Now that her kids are older, Kristina Richards has more time for charity work. She spends most of her free time volunteering at a downtown women’s shelter.

When a Volunteer Tells You “No”

Guest post by Bob D’Ambrosio, Group Publishing

Don't let a "No" response from a volunteer get you down.

Don’t let a “No” get you down.

The best way to involve someone in your organization is to ask them. But making the “big ask” means you may hear that dreaded word: No

Hearing people say “No” is part of the invitation process. They’re not saying no to you, but rather to the opportunity to serve. Try to keep this in perspective since the more people you invite, the more you’ll hear that word!

When a potential volunteer does say “No”, don’t panic.

Trying to become Joe (or Jane) salesperson to force a yes will only be seen as arm twisting and manipulation. But you do want to discern why the offer was declined.

Here’s what “No” often means:

“I don’t feel qualified.” A No may indicate the volunteer doesn’t feel qualified to serve in the position. First timers especially may feel they don’t have the background or experience to serve. This is really a training issue. Inform the person of training opportunities that will be provided to equip him or her to be successful in the position.

“This is not a good time.” Everyone has seasons in life when they may not be able to serve. Children, health, employment (or lack of) may interfere with a person’s time commitment. They may be more receptive if a different schedule is offered or when the next opportunity becomes available.

“That’s not a good fit.” Your volunteer is not saying no to serving, just to serving in this position. Explore what other options may be a better fit, and refer this person to the leader in his or her area of interest. There may even be other positions available within the same department for your referrals. Pass this information on, and make sure the person is contacted and doesn’t fall through the cracks.

So what do you do after you hear “No?”

Thank the person for considering the opportunity to serve. Be polite and appreciative for his or her consideration of this service opportunity.

Record the person’s response and follow up as needed. For example, if a person says they would be interested in helping next year…someone will need to follow-up. Many tracking programs have “tickler reminders” of when to make the next contact. A No today may be a Yes next month!

Send a personal thank-you note. In your note, include any next steps if you’ll be referring the person to another volunteer area or will be contacting him or her in the future.

Don’t let a “No” response get you down. Asking people to volunteer means sometimes people will say yes and sometimes they’ll say no. Keep focused on the main goal – helping people discover the joy of serving!

Bob D’Ambrosio is a 25-year veteran of vocational ministry and now works at Group Publishing, Loveland, CO. He’s the training director for the Equipping Institute, online editor for CVDaily, and part of the product development team. He recently edited the newly released Volunteer Leadership Series.

Advice for Nonprofits on the Google Reader Shutdown

Google Reader is being shutdown in less than a month. Here are some possible alternatives.Earlier in 2013 Google announced that as of July 1st, 2013, it will be shutting down Google Reader. Then came the public outcry, as millions of loyal feed readers became desperate at the thought of losing their favorite feed reader.

Now the impending deadline is less than one month away, and while many people are still very sad/angry/confused, most have realized that the end of Google Reader is not the end of the blog reading world. There are other options.

Google Reader is shutting down. Here's some advice for and possible alternatives.

Unless you are one of those people described above, you may think that this issue isn’t relevant for you – but that’s not true. If your organization has a blog, whether it’s for volunteers, donors, clients or staff, then you need to guide your readers during this transition time. Make sure they know how to easily follow your blog after Google Reader goes away, otherwise these readers could very likely disappear, as well.

Below are some Google Reader alternatives for you to explore, so your readers won’t miss any great posts from your blog (and, of course, so you won’t miss any great Engaging Volunteers content.) Check them out and share your favorites with your community:


As the most recommended Google Reader alternative, Feedly has been getting a lot of buzz lately. It provides an easy way to migrate your feeds over from Google Reader, and its interface is simple and elegant.

Drawback: As far as I can tell, it does not support multiple users/accounts within the same deployment. (So if you had different sets of feeds for different Google accounts, you’re out of luck.)


One cool feature of Newsblur is a Pandora-type element that lets you “train” the reader based on the stories you like and dislike, creating a truly personalized experience.

Drawback: Limited to 64 feeds and 10 stories at a time unless you pay for the premium account. If your feed list is anything like mine, this won’t be nearly enough.


Pulse is touted as the most beautiful of the Google Reader alternatives. Its interface is overwhelmingly visual, with a focus on mobile usability.

Drawback: You can only import your Google Reader feeds via mobile, not on the web. Also, Pulse is probably the most different from the text-based Google Reader, so it could take some more adjustment than these other tools.


Describing itself as a “personal magazine,” Flipboard makes it easy to organize your feeds (and those you discover) into different types and topics according to your interests.

Drawback: Flipboard is for mobile and tablet users only at this point.

The Old Reader

This tool is probably the most like Google Reader – in fact it was built to be a replacement. The site is fast and free, with a very simple interface.

Drawback: The tool is still in beta, and there is no mobile app.

Are you preparing your blog readers for the Google Reader shutdown? Share your alternative recommendations below!