The Organizer #16 | Fundraising

How do I create a fundraising pitch? Every pitch has 5 key ingredients. Wrap those in a compelling story and you'll find your funders.

Fundraisers can learn pitching from true-crime

We can’t stop watching these shows about unicorns con artists who start companies, fundraise relentlessly by promising to change the world, then fall from grace. From WeCrashed to The Dropout, the true-grift genre is a hot thing right now.

Nonprofit fundraisers will immediately recognize the language people these people use. They are lifting so much of the vocabulary from the social impact world! They talk about “helping people” and “building community”. Then they make billions of dollars. (That’s where their storylines diverge.)

WeWork was a $50-billion company that never turned a profit. Theranos was a $10-billion blood testing tech company that never built tech that accurately tested blood. Both founders raised piles of cash by spinning stories about how they were going to change the world. In both cases, narrative trumped data.

Since we are actually changing the world, we should pay attention.

Capitalists and con artists are talking like social impact leaders

It is not a good idea to con people. It is also not a good idea to throw money at something just because the CEO is wearing a nice turtleneck or has bare feet.

That said, these companies’ fundraising successes do remind us how important a pitch can be. It matters how we tell our organization’s stories. How we describe our missions matters most of all.

Take the power back

The start-up world borrowed social impact mission statements to pitch their work as important, urgent, and valuable. It worked.

If for-profit start-ups can win hearts and minds by promising to make the world a better place, so can we.

After all, we were here first.

No more lies

Of course, it is harder to fundraise when you have to stick to facts. You have to make promises you can actually keep and talk about complex and uncomfortable problems.

It’s harder , but it’s not impossible.

Those pesky start-ups have pointed the way. For all their flaws, the explosion of start-ups has helped to refine and shape the elements of a compelling pitch. On average start-ups do a much better job communicating their purpose and value than the typical nonprofit with its dusty case for support.

They learned from us, so let’s learn from them.

The “must have” ingredients for a compelling pitch

Whether you are pitching a new acquaintance at an event or writing a 30-page proposal, every fundraising pitch has 5 key ingredients:

  1. Need
  2. Solution
  3. Cost
  4. Team
  5. Gap & Ask


The “need” describes a problem or opportunity. Why is it worth paying attention to your work right now? What is at stake?


The “solution” describes your response to the need. What’s your idea, product, or service? How does it meet the need? What makes it different from other solutions?


The “cost”, as you probably guessed, is the amount of money it will take to implement the solution. Is the cost commensurate to the need and the solution? Are you getting good value for the money being spent? Is enough money being spent to achieve the intended results?


Once someone believes that a solution is worthwhile, they need to believe you have the right people to implement it. Who are you and your organization? Who is on your “team”? Why are you the best people to implement this solution? Why should a funder trust you and your team?

Gap & Ask

The last ingredient in any fundraising pitch is the Gap and Ask. The “gap” is the difference between what you have and what you need. If you have other supporters lined up, name them. How much of the cost will those supporters cover? What do you still need to raise? The “ask” is the amount of money you are asking a specific donor to contribute. Do you need one donor to fill the entire gap? Five donors? A thousand donors? Don’t make people do math. Give them the numbers and show them they aren’t alone.

In their minds, every donor is running through the same equation. Is this important? Will the solution work? Is the solution worth the money being spent? Can I afford my contribution? Will my contribution make a difference? Spell it out. Paint a picture.

Those five ingredients are a magic formula. They are also personal. When someone agrees to give you money, they aren’t just cutting a cheque – they are adding their name to your list of supporters. Your funders are aligning themselves with your team. They are becoming part of the story.

How to create a fundraising pitch

The quintessential start-up style pitch is summarized in Guy Kawasaki’s “The Only 10 Slides You Need in a Pitch”. He does a brilliant job telling you what to say and how to present it visually. He even gives you the free slides in Canva.

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