APRIL 27: Philanthropitch shakes up traditional fundraising

Philanthropitch audience stage

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional route of fundraising, but it is a long process. It can take months, maybe even years, depending on the donor, the ask and the organization.

First, you have to find these people. Who might be interested in your work? How do you get in touch with them without feeling like a stalker?

Then you start with introductions, getting to know your prospects. You arrange a meeting to talk to them about where your nonprofit’s projects might align with their hopes and dreams for personal fulfillment. Maybe flip through some kind of presentation on a PowerPoint you’ve printed out.

Then you have coffee again, just to check in.

You send them a holiday card, a random thank-you note just to stay in touch. Then you call for the big meeting where you and your executive director take them for an expensive lunch and make the ask. There’s some follow up. And then, finally, the promise of a check. Months.

Philanthropitch is …. kind of like that. But with more people, on a stage. In one night. And the money is pretty huge, too.

At Philanthropitch, BuildASign.com, the producer and host, brings the audience; you just bring your best pitch. Sure, the application, selection and training process takes a few months, but the feedback your organization gets on how it presents itself is really valuable.

Now that the field is whittled down to a final seven, they will all take the Zach Theatre stage on April 27, give their three-minute pitch to a full-house audience, answer a few questions from the judges and it will be done. A few hours later, they’ll be trying to fit one of those big, cardboard checks in the back of their cars.

Philanthropitch checks


The event is not at all unlike the traditional for-profit pitch events… except these projects aren’t about turning a profit, rather they’re about having a positive impact on a pressing social issue.

Each of the finalists has just three minutes to sell the audience — and the tough judges — on their project. Once each of the nonprofits have made their case, it’s voting time.

That’s when the fun really begins, says Chelsea Woodhead. She’s the chief people officer at BuildASign, which produces the event in a partnership with Greenlights, a nonprofit support organization.

“After all the nonprofits have pitched, there’s this frantic, behind-the-scenes conversation among the judges,” says Woodhead.

“But it’s special in the audience, too. They’re all talking about the problems that exist in our community, what they feel passionate about, where they can actually feel like their vote will make a difference. I truly think people leave the event feeling inspired to go out and do something.”

Then the awards are handed out, and none of the nonprofits leave empty handed.

There’s the prize money from the BuildASign Giving Program, which will go to the organization with the most votes fro the BAS employees in attendance.

There’s the judges’ prize, with each of the seven judges committing to give $7,500 each to some combination of their choices.

There’s an audience choice award given to the organization with the most audience votes.

And then a few of the nonprofits will be accepted into Greenlights’ Accelerator program, receiving a minimum of $3,000 each and then having the opportunity to pitch to even more funders later.

All total, the event will give away $125,000 in prizes in one night. And no one has to buy anyone coffee.

This year the seven finalists are Austin Habitat for Humanity, Colin’s Hope, Explore Austin, H.A.N.D, Multicultural Refugee Coalition, Soceity of St. Vincent de Paul and WeViva. Some of these you’ve heard of, others you maybe haven’t. And that’s the beauty of Philanthropitch.

“It think this year, it’s a wide-open field,” says Woodhead.

The Philanthropitch model isn’t the solution to all nonprofit fundraising. But it certainly has a place. Nonprofits must still cultivate long-term relationships with individuals who can commit deeply to their causes. But you never know: these one-night stands with new donors at an arranged pitch even could lead to something.

And in the meantime, the audience has a great night, the nonprofits walk away with a sizable donation and the culture of philanthropy in Austin grows a little bit richer.

Monday, April 27, 2015
ZACH Theatre
1510 Toomey Rd, Austin, TX 78704


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