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tech grants: Mastering The Art Of The Elevator Pitch, Or How To Grab A Funder’s Ear

Stock image from inside and elevatorIn the April 30th online version of Philanthropy Today, published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, there was an interesting video clip titled, “The Art of the Elevator Pitch.”

I listened to the eight one-minute segments, and they reminded me of what I frequently tell faculty and staff who are interested in writing a proposal. If you happen to be on the ground floor at the Google Complex corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California, waiting to catch an elevator and CEO Eric Schmidt gets on, you have exactly four floors to make your pitch to him.

Well, what does that mean exactly? If you have a business plan or proposal that you would like Google to consider, your presentation (pitch) has to be sharp and crisp, to the point, and well thought out. So that in less than a minute, the prospect will understand what it is you are proposing and why it makes a good fit. Why, How, When, Who and How Much.

This essentially means that you know what your project is and how to quickly and concisely tell the story to capture the imagination of the listener. More specifically, I tell our faculty or staff to call a Federal Agency’s Program Officer in Washington, D.C., and very briefly explain the proposed project, as if they were in an elevator with them. This results in an interesting exchange, where the person at the other end has an opportunity to quickly digest your “elevator pitch” and quickly responds back to you. It will be either:

  1. exciting, and something they might consider funding;
  2. they might consider it with modifications, or
  3. not an idea that falls within their interest area.

Then, if the last, you can follow up with what are their priority interest areas this funding cycle. A second follow-up question might be, what other agency, foundation or corporation might they suggest may have an interest in the concept?

All of this is accomplished in a matter of a few minutes, and you haven’t invested any time in developing a proposal. No pen to paper or keystrokes on a screen. This is a very efficient manner to get a quick read on your concept. Not only that, a side benefit will be that you now have established a relationship with the prospective funding source. They will remember you in the future, when you make a second elevator pitch, or they may refer you to a colleague of theirs, who may be able to consider your preliminary idea and give you valuable feedback.

I have found this strategy works well with several federal funding sources, National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts and the Environmental Protection Agency. On the Foundation side, if you can get through the firewalls and find the correct program manager, they usually are quite generous with their time and suggestions as well.

Happy elevator ride! <>