Commentary: Scottsdale Fast Pitch event can spur nonprofit destiny

My organization, Feeding Matters, deals with a complicated issue that isn’t well known or understood. When we started nearly a decade ago, we weren’t that good at explaining it.

Chris Linn

Chris Linn

And then came Fast Pitch.

It’s a program of Social Venture Partners Arizona, a network of philanthropists who invest time, money and talent to build and strengthen local non-profits. Fast Pitch pours time and expertise into 20 non-profits, with eight advancing to compete for tens of thousands of dollars and continued mentoring.

It’s called Fast Pitch for a reason: You get three minutes to make your pitch before a live audience.

Before the inaugural competition in 2011, we could barely clear our throats in 180 seconds. It wasn’t easy explaining the many medical conditions than lead to children having difficulty eating, the stress that creates in families and the need to provide greater training to doctors and other medical professionals. We could talk in great detail about how we were addressing needs.

And people would look at their watches.

Our Social Venture Partners mentors helped us boil down and refine our message. They showed us how to get away from the jargon that made eyes glaze over. They helped us develop a direct message, one that we could explain in three minutes. We still use parts of that message.

That alone made Fast Pitch a winning proposition for us. But it got better. We won that initial competition. (We went by the name P.O.P.S.I.C.L.E. then.)

With the prize money, we bought computers and rented north Scottsdale office space, which allowed us to increase our capacity. We expanded quickly, growing our operating budget from $275,000 in 2011 to $1 million today. We reach eight times as many families and medical professionals as we did five years ago.

Maybe that would have happened without Fast Pitch. We’re a determined bunch. But Fast Pitch eased the path by which we became thought leaders with an international reach.

We are changing families’ lives by shaping a future for their kids. Families fall apart when they’re faced with pediatric feeding struggles. We’re trying to help these families stay together.

Most funders want to pay for programs, not computers and office space. Yet any nonprofit needs basic infrastructure to deliver programs and expand services. It needs resources to enhance its marketing, a key to increasing awareness and support.

At the end of the day, we’re a business. If we don’t run our organization like a business, our social purpose is for naught. Social Venture Partners understands this. That’s why I continue to be a big fan of Fast Pitch. It’s why Feeding Matters has a presence there every year.

I hope you’ll join me this year, when the Fast Pitch event returns to Scottsdale. It’s scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 1 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Eight of the 20 semi-finalists will make their three-minute presentations that night. More than $50,000 in grants and prizes will be awarded.

Come hear what these non-profits are doing. You’ll be amazed. And you’ll see the future. These groups are poised for tremendous growth and an impactful future. Just like Feeding Matters was five years ago.

Editor’s note: Ms. Linn is executive director of Scottsdale-based Feeding Matters.

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