To pitch or not to pitch?

So you’ve secured a meeting with one of your top corporate prospects. Brilliant news! But then you’re faced with the following dilemma: “to pitch or not to pitch?” It’s such an important question and corporate fundraisers ask me it all the time. So here are my thoughts on the matter.

Definition of a pitch

It’s important to avoid confusion, so here is my definition of a pitch, “a pitch is a way of sharing an idea in a persuasive manner.” I should add that it’s not necessarily about being pushy or salesy and in many circumstances it takes the form of a conversation. That conversation often begins with you asking questions and also repeating back your understanding of the prospect’s situation.

Blank piece of paper

Over 20 years ago, when I was a corporate fundraiser at Action for Children, my approach to a first meeting with a corporate prospect, was to go in with a blank piece of paper. I would start by asking the person I was meeting to tell me their objectives and some background information on their company. After that I would respond in kind by telling them my objectives and giving them background information on my charity. We would then agree to go away and come up with some ideas on how we could work together, based on our shared objectives. We would then meet for a second time and share these ideas. I was so proud of my blank piece of paper approach. I thought it was genius!

The world has changed

Looking back it sounds so slow and time-consuming. The world has changed so much since then. With the advance of the internet, smartphones and the huge volume of email, the business people we are meeting are so much busier now. This makes the idea of having an initial exploratory meeting feel inappropriate and almost rude. In addition, there is usually so much information on the internet about the company, and the people we are meeting, we can do some vital research before-hand that will give us a reasonable insight into their objectives and challenges.

Pitching comes in many forms

Therefore, when corporate fundraisers ask me, “should I pitch at my first meeting with a prospect?” I say, “Yes.” Now I should be clear that pitching comes in many forms. You can do it standing up with PowerPoint slides, which is probably the right approach when you’re invited in for a competitive pitch. But you can also pitch sitting down over a cup of coffee, with no slides at all. As mentioned above, this approach takes the form of a conversation. One of my charity contacts describes the latter approach as “pitching without it feeling like you’re pitching.”

Why pitch?

I’m a huge fan of pitching. I think it’s an essential life skill. So here are my seven reasons to pitch:

  1. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so do something memorable.
  2. Your cause requires an extraordinary response, so share it in an extraordinary way.
  3. Your goal is to give them the best meeting they have ever had.
  4. Pitching helps put your charity on an equal footing with the company.
  5. You can engage the person you are meeting emotionally by telling a story.
  6. It injects a sense of urgency.
  7. The person you are meeting will be impressed by the amount of work you have put into preparing your pitch.

Start with listening

Now don’t get me wrong. Just because I recommend you pitch it doesn’t mean that you don’t listen to the person you are meeting with. In fact, that’s where I recommend you start. Here is my suggested agenda for a first meeting with a corporate prospect:

  1. Company’s objectives and challenges.
  2. Charity’s problem and partnership idea.
  3. Discuss opportunities for working together.
  4. Agree next steps.

Even though you’ve thoroughly researched the company and the person/people you are meeting, you still start by asking them about their objectives and challenges. By giving them the opportunity to speak first they will feel so much more positive about you, because business people love talking about what they do. It’s also a great opportunity to check your assumptions and make a note of anything you didn’t find out in your research. Then when it comes to your turn to talk, you pitch your charity’s problem and partnership idea based on the objectives and challenges they have just shared. I recommend your pitch is 5-10 minutes long, so you leave plenty of time for agenda points 3 and 4.

Improve your pitching skills

So how do you get better at pitching? You pitch. Take every opportunity you can. Practice pitching with your colleagues. Discover what works and doesn’t work. The more you pitch, the more confident you will become, which will make you even better at pitching. You can also improve your pitching skills by joining us on our Corporate Partnerships Masterclass.

Pitching changes lives

Pitching is powerful way of showing a company the enormous opportunity for you to partner together and the incredible difference you can make in the world. It can change the life of the business people you are meeting and many lives of the people you want to support. But pitching also changes me. When I pitch in a powerful way about something that is important to me, it makes me feel better about myself. It increases my confidence. It is life affirming.

I want to leave you with a quote which really sums up why pitching is so important. It comes from Daniel Priestley, who is an entrepreneur and best-selling author.

“You get what you pitch for. And you’re always pitching.”

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