Powerful Elevator Speech Exercise for Your Board Members

Do your board members know what to say when they have a lucky moment?

Do your board members know what to say?

I bet many of them are unsure of themselves when they get a chance to have a conversation about your wonderful organization.

Once a board member asked me, “What do I SAY about our organization?”

Here’s what I told her:

“Talk about why you care.”

“Aha,” said the board member, walking away smiling, “of course!”

Part of every board member’s training needs to be work on their own personal elevator speech.

I’m not talking about the “three main marketing messages” or your mission statement. (boring!)

I’m not even talking about a rehearsed, point by point elevator speech that everybody memorizes.

The problem with those strategies is that your board members will probably forget them when they need them.


They will never forget why they care.

That’s an impact statement at the highest level.

It’s something they carry with them wherever they go.

And they always know that story.  Because it’s deep in their hearts.

Here’s a powerful, terrific exercise that will help your board members develop their own personal elevator speech – and have fun doing it.

Multiple objectives in this exercise:

Board members never forget why they personally care.

Not only does this give board members training and practice in an important skill, but it also:

  • Gets the board members talking to each other.
  • Wakes up their passion and energy, and engages them in the cause.
  • Reconnects them with the reason they are taking the time out of their busy lives to serve on the board.
  • Builds a sense of camaraderie and closeness among the board members.
  • Adds some fun to their experience as board members.
  • Boosts their morale, and sets them up to take action.

Best yet, it is a team-building exercise, too.

I begin every single one of my “Easy Fundraising for Board Members” retreats with this exercise – and it never fails. People love it!

Here’s what you do.  Ask them this simple question:

“Why do you personally care about our organization?”

It’s a pretty unusual question because board members don’t often get a chance to talk about why they care.

They are too busy doing business and being efficient.

In the interest of using their time wisely, we often don’t take the time to go deeper and touch their hearts.

We rarely ask them about their OWN story.

I am always amazed and pleased with what this question evokes in people. It helps them get back in touch with that deep caring they have in their hearts for your cause.

Here’s how I set up this most important conversation so that no one is self conscious or feels put on the spot.

It’s a casual “mingle exercise.”

Mingle exercises are fun and informal.

Board members just mingle around the room and share their own perspective with other trustees.

How to set this exercise up:

1. Ask your board members what they would say if someone asked them why they cared enough to serve on this board. If they ran into someone at work or socially, what would they say? What speaks to you deeply about our work?

2. Give them a few moments to write down some notes to themselves – what would they really say if given the chance?

3. Then tell them in just a minute we will ask everyone in the room to get up out of their chairs, find a partner, and share these thoughts with FOUR other board members.

4. Explain the exercise:

  • You’ll find a partner.
  • Introduce yourself in case they may not know you well.
  • Then share your story.
  • Each person should take about 30 seconds.
  • I’ll keep time and call out “Change partners!” when it’s time to find another partner.

5.  Then launch them: “Everybody up!” Have them stand up, find someone to talk to, and share their perspective briefly with four other board members, one after the other.

How to debrief when everyone is finished:

Ask these questions:

  • What was their experience like?  Let different people talk.
  • What were they saying?
  • How were they being?
  • Was it easy or difficult?
  • Was it fun or awful?
  • What did you learn from other board members?

I love this exercise for so many reasons.

This exercise can light a fire in your trustees!

It’s informal.  It’s fun.

And it’s remarkably productive on multiple levels.

When the board members talk repeatedly about what sparks their enthusiasm for your organization’s work, they are re-igniting their own passion as they speak.

The board members also learn from other board members.

They get great energy from the other folks in the room; and they enjoy themselves.

When you do this exercise, you’ll be surprised by the excitement and fun that it generates. You’ll see people laughing and smiling.

Board members love to talk to each other and they rarely get the chance.

It’s a great energy boost and refreshing shift away from boring board meetings.

AND it’s the best morale booster I’ve ever seen.

When they are re-inspired by their own passion for the cause, board members are now ready to go to work.

Because they get back in touch with the deeper issue of why they care, then they are much more ready to tackle the work at hand with vigor – and commitment.

I’ll bet that if you do this before a meeting, you’ll find that it’s one of the best meetings you’ve ever had with this group.

At least that’s what some of my fundraising friends say who have put this conversation in front of their board.

Try it and post a comment here to let me know how it worked!

  • Traci Dillard

    Sounds like a great idea and I am definitely putting it out there at our next Board meeting in a couple of weeks….wish me luck.

  • We did a similar exercise at the the beginning of our board retreat and it did work. People started thinking more specifically about how they could help and volunteering for things they never had before. They were realizing that they cared about a specific aspect and wanted to make sure  those areas were covered. 

    What I did run into is that it seemed to wear off. The board was fired up for a few weeks or a few months. How often should we be doing this? 4 times a year? Whenever morale is down?

  • KenHall2

    This isn’t just good for Board members, it works well on volunteers who need ‘a re-charge!’

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Ken.  It works for staff too! 

  • Anonymous

    Sandy, I think you do need to have this conversation every few months at least. Or find fresh ways to talk about what’s really at stake in our work. Gotta bring in the emotion and evoke passion and energy somehow!

  • Anonymous

    Terrific! Let  me know how it worked! Or post your experience here!

  • Betsy Levitas

    Gail, this is a great exercise for SO many reasons, including that board members (and anyone else connected to the organization) have found their own words and practiced them so that they will be on the tip of the tongue for that “lucky moment.”  Absolutely brilliant!

  • Ben Gonsher

    Gail, i’m in the process of meeting with each and every board member (and future board member!) over these summer months, and as I prepare for each conversation, I am THRILLED to have this technique with me! I can’t wait to try it this afternoon over coffee, with two of our partners. It will be modified, obviously, but I can already see their eyes lighting up as they tell EACH OTHER why they care so much about the cause! THANK YOU!

  • Anonymous

    This is a terrific idea.  We have a board meeting coming up next Monday, August 1 and I am going to propose this to the executive director and board president.  We don’t really have a culture of philanthropy on our board and one of my primary goals this season is to develop a deeper commitment and stronger participation in our philanthropic activities among them.  We are a $3 million theatre just outside of Chicago. 
    Thank you, Gail.  I love your Friday emails!  Molly

  • Anonymous

    Molly, great idea – try this conversation with them and see if it doesn’t awaken some energy.  Be sure to make it casual and fun.

  • Anonymous

    Ben, it’s a great way to have this talk – one on one. Can’t wait to hear about your experience!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Betsy, you nailed it!

  • Debra Meissner

    Gail, this is such a great idea – can’t wait to try it.  Tell me, would it be odd to try a form of this at an upcoming donor’s retreat as an icebreaker?    Thanks so much for all you do.  I always look forward to your emails.  Such wisdom!  🙂

  • Anonymous

    Hi Debra, it might be interesting to try it with donors – but be sure it feels really really informal, and a bit playful.  I’ve never tried it with donors and would LOVE to know how it worked!

  • Hi Gail, our non profit is about raising Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness in our schools. I live in California and schools are not mandated to have CPR/AED (automated external devices) in schools. Any tips on how I can get schools to work with our organizations. It’s been a real challenge, any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Keep Young Hearts Beating!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Corinne, gosh you have a toughie.  Teachers and schools these days feel overwhelmed with so much on their plate – I guess that’s why they are not so very responsive. What do you have that they might need? What can you do for them or take off their plate? Can you offer a lesson plan for a health ed. class to relieve a busy teacher? 

  • Jeri Bowers

    Gail, whenever I am feeling overwhelmed and a bit disheartened by all of the work that we have before us (and feeling like our board just doesn’t appreciate the importance of their role) I read one of your helpful posts — and I begin to feel like maybe this is possible. Thanks for providing such positive, practical advice.