The Importance of Developing a Pitch

I received a call from a non-profit struggling to regroup after finding out they were turned down for a much needed and anticipated government grant to boost emergency services in the community. The non-profit had one shot to file a new grant application within 30 days but were unsure on how to proceed. They asked me to step in to review all the materials and help craft a new content strategy.

After hearing the non-profit’s story and reading through everything it became clear why the grant request was not funded. While the needs and supporting data were well documented, the application failed to answer a fundamental question. Why should this request be funded above all others?

Whether you’re asking management to fund a business idea or seeking funds for your non-profit, it’s important to develop a pitch that transforms facts and figures into a compelling story of why you should be funded. With the time clock ticking, I focused this assignment on 3 things to help the team find a new strategy.

Understand the needs of the audience.

I started with a scavenger hunt to find and review the available information about the granting agency and grant program goals. I also explored strategies from past winners to develop more clues. Then, I called the agency to clarify my assumptions and identify what was missing.  At this point I had a good understanding of the grant committee needs and in the process uncovered a few surprises that would help spark ideas and a new direction for the team.

Use visual maps to help build clarity and focus.

Government grants are notoriously complex excavations in gathering and synthesizing information. This grant was no exception with 30+ pages of application guidelines. To help move quickly from gathering to synthesizing, I created a visual map of the elements the stakeholders would be using to evaluate the grant applications. Not only was it eye-opening to see the grant process from the grant agency’s point of view, it also helped shift the non-profit’s thinking on their needs. We used the visual map as a jump off point to expand the ideas in the original grant request.

Leverage the team’s story.

With the visual map in hand, I spent time at the firehouse listening to the volunteers that provide fire and emergency services to the community. Hearing the volunteers’ stories helped bring to life the needs and challenges in the community in a way that data never could.

Combining the team’s stories with the new understanding of the granting agency goals helped us brainstorm and develop a 5 year plan focused on high-impact ideas.  The non-profit was able to file a compelling and comprehensive grant application within the 30 day deadline.

Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Charles Silvey

In Search of Meaning

Finding meaning in data is challenging.  Communicating that meaning to an audience can be even more challenging.  Rely too heavily on data and you lose your audience quickly to information overload or boredom.   Emphasize story or visual tools without enough data and you lose credibility.  The key is to find the right balance of data, story and visual thinking in order to create meaning.  Build these elements into presentations and you will also help communicate that meaning to your audience.  As an added bonus, your audience will be grateful that they are not enduring yet another presentation of bulleted factoids.

As a lifelong student of this topic, I’ve been amazed at the explosion of great ideas and information emerging over the last few years.  Innovative thinking is sparking a revolution in how we think about and communicate data to be more impactful and meaningful.  I think a catalyst for all this is the sheer volume of information we filter and consume each day.  Unconsciously, we use visual thinking and story techniques everyday to help process and identify patterns within data to create meaning.  The increased use of information graphics is just one example of a visual tool proliferating rapidly to help ease the information overload.

In this blog I’ll find, share and explore the best ideas emerging in visual thinking and story to help create and communicate meaning in data.  I’ll also focus on how I’ve applied ideas in the real world of compressed deadlines and limited resources.

I hope you enjoy exploring the ideas in the blog and find inspiration for building your business story.

Thanks for stopping by!