Pitching Inspiration

For the last four years, I have the great good fortune of teaching in the University of Washington’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. Earlier this week, we had the ‘2011 Pitch-Off’, which meant five student groups gave an elevator pitch for this quarter’s organization of choice, the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Sure, it was a class assignment so they HAD to do it. But they didn’t just come up with something to stick in a “good enough” box. They went beyond. They inspired.

They encouraged us to think about music as a window to the soul. They connected the dots between discipline, focus and orchestra as community. They dazzled us with the idea that when you put instruments into a child’s hands, you tune their minds and hearts. They introduced the concept of an air violin–which a young boy played for a month because there was no  money to fix his real violin. They challenged us to think of what our world would be like without music.

They could’ve simply blah blah’d about the features of the orchestra–that it’s the oldest and largest in the country. Or they could’ve enumerated its strengths–number of students, number of orchestras, number of performances. Our heads would’ve been choc-o-bloc full. But if a nonprofit doesn’t connect with someone’s heart, they are unlikely to inspire them to take action.

In his post today, Carrots and marketing to the poor, Sasha Dichter proclaimed: “Benefits don’t sell.” That might be true if you’re trying to market shampoo in the developing world, but it’s not true if you’re trying to engage mission-minded people in your cause. (No offense to Sasha who writes one of the most on-point, thought-provoking blogs in the social sector, in my humble opinion.) The two B’s–beliefs and benefits–matter a lot. Together, they speak to both our hearts and our heads. It’s a matter of  aligning what you and those committed to your cause believe with the benefits they care about most (and that you presumably offer) in a way that is clear and compelling.

In the Pitch-Off, students found ways to nestle the benefits the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra has to offer (endangered instrument program, anyone?)  into what we believe–that music lessons are life lessons.

Tuesday I was reminded of why I love teaching so much–it’s because I get the privilege of learning. I learn way more from my students than they could ever learn from me. It’s humbling.

Hats off to all the students–especially those brave enough to stand and deliver–for speaking to our hearts…and then our heads. You pitched inspiration. Well done.