Social Innovation Fast Pitch

For-profit markets have mechanisms where groups of potential investment opportunities are vetted and then presented to potential investors. The success of this model, is that the potential investors come to the table looking for potential investments. This is radically different from most nonprofit fundraising interactions where the potential “investee” approaches the potential “investor” without having been vetted in anyway. This leads to donor/investors generally having their guard up during the initial interaction.

A different sort of model is playing out in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Social Innovation Fast Pitch event being held at the University of Southern California, features nonprofits that have been vetted by USC, Social Venture Partners-Los Angeles and the Social Enterprise Institute.

The Social Innovation Fast Pitch is not just an event where 10 nonprofit leaders give their 3-minute elevator pitch to compete for $20,000 grants in front of an audience of 350 people. It’s really a professional development program for social entrepreneurs that builds skills they’ll use every day. It teaches them how to talk to people about their organization in a much clearer, more compelling way. What we’ve observed is that too often, the message gets stale, and people tend to use too much jargon. They may not be clear about their “ask”, or may put themselves in a box by focusing their “ask” only on money or on assumptions they make about their audience. In addition, they just don’t get the feedback from listeners about what they like and connect with – or don’t like. These organizations are doing amazing, innovating and impactful things, but from some of the applications, you’d never know it!

The program addresses these ineffective communication habits head on. This year, 22 nonprofits were selected from a pool of 65 nominations to go through the 2-month training program. We recruit dozens of volunteers from the business community to provide group coaching in multiple practice sessions, and also pair each nonprofit leader with 1 or 2 of the coaches to mentor them between sessions. Of course, what often happens is that the feedback prompts them to look at bigger, strategic questions about the organization. The difference over a short period of time is truly amazing! Program participants tell us that – based on what they’ve learned – they change the way they talk about their organization in almost every setting: to people they just meet, to the media, to their boards, and to funders.

This year’s event runs from 4:00 – 7:30 pm on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at USC. In addition to the 10 presenters, the program features Andy Rappaport, a venture capitalist and social entrepreneur, who will share his views on social change and risk-seeking philanthropy. The program is co-hosted by Los Angeles Social Venture Partners, the Social Enterprise Institute, and the University of Southern California.

For more information or to register for the event click here.

I’m particularly intrigued by the concept, because it mirrors the way I speculated that nonprofit funding might occur in the future in a column I wrote for the Financial Times in early 2008.


  1. Laura Deaton says:

    Sean – Are you going or do you know someone who is? It’s fascinating and I’d love to hear how it goes!

  2. I won’t be there, but I have someone who is who might follow up with a post reflecting on the process. Thanks for your interest, Laura.