Pitch Yourself

An Apra member — let’s call her Miss Understood — heard something through the workplace grapevine that gave her pause. A new staff member at Miss Understood’s institution had apparently inquired about her role as a prospect researcher. One of Miss Understood’s colleagues responded by calling her a “professional Googler.” Miss Understood was understandably irritated. But instead of being discouraged, she embarked on a campaign to replace that narrative with something more accurate.

The opportunity to change — and update — outside perceptions about your role is right in your hands. The key is being ready to speak up when the time is right. One great way to do this is to create your very own pitch.

You can think of it as an elevator speech, a slogan or an unexpected sample platter the chef sends from the kitchen. It doesn’t need to cover all you’re capable of; it’s simply a taste that invites further interactions.

Ways to get started

There are many places from which to draw inspiration for your pitch. Here are four:

  • Imagine the way your clients or leadership would describe you to a new colleague. I once heard a fundraiser introduce me like so: “She and her team help us manage our portfolios.” I liked this plain-speak foundation.
  • Describe your role in your organization’s impact. “I helped make sure a proposal was submitted at just the right time to the right donor, resulting in a $10 million investment to re-train displaced basketweavers.”
  • Illustrate the risk — or opportunity cost — of not working with you or your team. “My analysis helps you spend your limited time on donors who are most likely to make a major gift.”
  • Read through your original job posting and job description for points you may not have immediately considered. If you can, recall some positive commentary during your interview process.

Once you have a good phrase from which to start, practice saying it out loud. Your pitch is meant to be delivered at just the right moment, so be sure it’s something you’re comfortable saying.

When to pitch

Now that you have a pitch, you’ll start noticing opportunities to use it. The strength of your pitch lies in your delivering it at just the right time. Here are some optimal situations in which to pitch:

  • When training or meeting new staff, especially fundraisers and admins who support fundraisers.
  • When communicating with volunteers or staff outside development, like faculty, program officers or board members.
  • When meeting with colleagues who know your role well, but need a reminder in order to allocate resources or time. This can even help you articulate a path for your own team.

Over time, you’ll find yourself using different pitches for different audiences, and even highlighting new products and services from your team. A good pitch helps build your own confidence, and with it, the stature of prospect development as a profession.

“I sell propane and propane accessories.” If only it were that simple to explain what we do. Still, we can — and should — take a cue from Hank Hill, and develop our own easy-to-understand catchphrases.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Jessica. My prospect management team will help you get credit for your good work in reaching your metrics goals.”

As for Miss Understood? She decided it was important to craft and control her own message about her professional role. With this in mind, she worked to establish a positive explanatory tone up front. She developed an orientation tool, including a Q&A addressing misconceptions about her work, and cited Apra as evidence that prospect researchers like her exist as part of a larger professional community.

After holding trainings with both new and existing staff, Miss Understood was able to change the conversation about prospect development in her organization. How will you advocate for yourself and your profession?

For more on developing an elevator speech, and many other ways to advocate for yourself, check out the newly released Apra Advocacy Toolkit.

Jessica Balsam is the director of prospect management at the University of Washington in Seattle, managing a team that analyzes prospect data and portfolios for the 180-plus major gift officers at the university. She is past president of Apra-NW and is the recipient of the 2016 Apra Professional of the Year award. Her 16 years in non-profit work have included positions at museums, in higher education, and as a database consultant and board member for small non-profits.

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