Nonprofits Get Help Developing Pitches for Business-Minded Donors

The philanthropic community in the Boston area is working to help nonprofits understand the language of the private sector and gain more support from wealthy, business-minded donors, the Boston Globe reports.

Unlike an older generation of donors who often gave charitable gifts out of habit to established institutions such as museums and universities, a new wave of philanthropists — many of them relatively young and newly wealthy — select their charities the way they pick stocks: by combing through facts and data. Many of these prospective donors are turned off by pitches that try to tug at their heartstrings, instead favoring organizations that strike them as well-run, financially sound, innovative, and poised to truly make a difference. "I know it's a little cold, but when I make a decision to support a nonprofit, it's just like an investment for me," said Dale Bearden, managing director of Babson Capital Management. "I know they're all going to help people, so I want to give my money to someone who will help people three times as efficiently."

Many philanthropically minded business executives have little time to research worthy charities themselves, so they turn to organizations like the Social Innovation Forum, which identifies promising Boston-area nonprofits and introduces them to potential donors. Each year, the forum chooses a half dozen organizations to make formal funding appeals to a large group of prospective funders, much the same way start-up companies are invited to pitch their new businesses to venture capital firms.

To help prepare for the event, organizations chosen by the forum, which this year include ReVision Urban Farm, Girls' LEAP, and the United Teen Equality Center, take part in a practice pitch session in front of a panel of seasoned business professionals who rate the presentations on clarity, substance, content, and professional appearance. After ReVision manager Matthew Kochka's practice pitch, he was told that his presentation, which focused on the nutritional virtues of the farm's vegetables, was off-point and should instead address the program's long-term benefits. Moreover, during his presentation, Kochka had not explicitly asked for financial support — the main goal of the exercise.

While the criticisms can be harsh, nonprofits have welcomed the feedback. "In the nonprofit world, we're very supportive of each other, so we try and make people feel good about the things they do, and criticism is usually said with a dose of sugar," Kochka said. "So it was really refreshing to have somebody be fully honest with me, especially a person who's coming from a very professional and effective background."

Sacha Pfeiffer. "Bottom-line Philanthropy." Boston Globe 04/30/2008.