5 Public Speaking Tips That Can Help Nonprofit Professionals

Building public speaking skills can help you make a strong case to nonprofit donors and other audiences. Use these public speaking tips for better engagement. 

By Patti Schutte

Fundraising is all about engaging with supporters and telling your organization’s story. When you build confidence as a public speaker, you can become a more effective fundraiser and nonprofit communicator. 

Public speaking skills can support nonprofit professionals as they give fundraising presentations, host one-on-one meetings with donors and supporters, speak at board meetings and conferences, and deliver other types of presentations. 

In this post, we’ll highlight five public speaking tips to grow your presentation skills and engage audiences effectively: 

  1. Tailor your presentation to your audience. 
  2. Plan your presentation conclusion first. 
  3. Use stories to create an emotional connection.
  4. Practice your pitch.
  5. Learn to pivot. 

With public speaking training, you can make a more compelling case to donors and be comfortable speaking to any audience. You’ll also be able to tell your nonprofit’s story effectively and recruit more support for your cause. 

1. Tailor your presentation to your audience. 

Whether you’re speaking to a major donor, your nonprofit’s board, or other nonprofit professionals at a conference, tailor your message to your audience. Use examples and anecdotes that resonate with your audience and appeal to their interests and motivations. 

For example, let’s say you’re speaking to your board to encourage them to get involved with fundraising. The benefits of engaging your board in fundraising are clear for your organization—they bring a high level of expertise in engaging major donors and can advocate for your organization’s cause from a leadership position. 

However, as a fundraising professional, it’s your job to help your board members understand and embrace their role in fundraising. Using an audience-oriented public speaking approach, you can complete activities with your board such as:

  • Setting fundraising goals as a group to give board members a stake in your success.
  • Speaking with board members one-on-one to assign individual tasks.
  • Educating your board members on your organization’s overall goals, successes, and areas for growth.
  • Walking board members through basic fundraising training, which is especially helpful for members who don’t have a strong fundraising background.

No matter what audience you’re speaking to, take some time beforehand to put yourself in their shoes to understand their perspective, motivations, and personal goals. 

Lastly, make your presentation accessible to your audience. If anyone in your audience has hearing or visual impairments, offer accommodations such as presentation captions or audio descriptions so they can engage with your presentation. This ensures you’re meeting your audience’s needs and creating inclusive presentations that everyone can engage with. 

2. Plan your presentation conclusion first. 

When preparing for fundraising presentations, it’s helpful to work backward from the end. Your ending is what will stick in audience members’ minds as they go about the rest of their day, so a memorable conclusion is crucial. 

Be Brilliant Presentation Group recommends concluding your presentation with a “Do-Remember-Feel” ending. To accomplish this type of conclusion, you can: 

  • End with a rousing call to action. Give audience members clear instructions for something they can do right away. For example, if you’re speaking to a group of current donors, highlight a few giving options audience members can take advantage of right away, such as writing a check, making a cash contribution, or submitting an online donation. 
  • Reemphasize your main talking points. Repeat your main points so audience members remember exactly what your core message is. 
  • Wrap up with a story or inspiring quote. Wrap up the story you started telling at the beginning of your presentation, or share an inspirational quote from your organization’s founder or someone who has benefited from your nonprofit’s services. This will give your audience members a lasting feeling that resonates with them. 

This type of presentation conclusion is especially effective when delivering presentations to donors. You can remind them why your organization is worthy of support, leave them with a lasting, powerful feeling, and give them the tools they need to get involved right away. 

3. Use stories to create an emotional connection.

Stories are approximately 22 times more memorable than straightforward facts. Whether you’re communicating the value of workplace giving to donors or explaining the importance of your nonprofit’s afterschool programs, use a story to bring the information to life

According to Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit storytelling, stories can help donors understand a new problem and make your organization’s mission much more tangible. 

Stories are most effective when they follow a clear structure. For example, let’s say you’re speaking at a fundraising auction to raise money for your nonprofit’s after-school SAT tutoring program. Here’s how you might structure your story:

  • Introduce the main character and the issues they face. For this story, your main character might be a local student who had been struggling to prepare for the SAT. 
  • Describe your main character’s attempts to fix the issue on their own. For instance, perhaps the student looked into taking an SAT prep class but couldn’t afford the fees.
  • Explain how, thanks to your donors, your organization supported the main character. Describe how the student was referred to your organization and how your tutoring program helped them improve their SAT score. 
  • Resolve the story and call listeners to action. Explain how the student was accepted into a good college with the help of their excellent SAT score. Bring audience members into the story by describing how they can make a difference and support other students in similar situations. 

Ensure your story includes direct quotes from your main character to create an emotional connection with the audience. Donors want to know their gifts are helping real people, and you can make that clear through compelling storytelling. 

4. Practice your pitch.

Once you’ve developed your fundraising presentation, dedicated practice will help you refine your pitch and get comfortable with speaking to your audience. Practice is especially critical when you’re speaking at a larger event, such as a gala or conference

Your preparation process will be different based on whether you’re speaking in person, virtually, or in a hybrid setting. Let’s look at an auction event as an example. Here are a few ways you can prepare for different types of auctions: 

  • In-person: Practice your introductory presentation in the event space, if possible. Test out the equipment, such as the microphone, lighting, and any visual presentation elements. If you’re hosting a live auction, ensure the stage and the audience are properly lit so you can see attendees’ paddles. 
  • Virtual: Practice recording yourself giving the auction introduction. Test out your virtual presentation tools, such as your slideshow or livestreaming platform tools. In addition, ensure your virtual auction tools, such as your mobile bidding system, item catalog, and payment processing tools are ready to go. 
  • Hybrid: When preparing for a hybrid event, you’ll need to test elements of both your in-person presentation and the livestreaming presentation. Your presentation should feature moments where you reference and engage with both your in-person and virtual audiences. 

Practicing multiple times can help you get comfortable with the presentation format so your speech is natural and relaxed. Plus, practicing beforehand can help you identify any technical issues or continuity errors and address them before presentation day. 

5. Learn to pivot. 

As a fundraiser, you know that not every meeting or presentation you hold with donors will be successful. Learning to pivot when prospective donors turn you down can help you turn more rejections into ongoing conversations. 

When you face rejection after a fundraising presentation or one-on-one meeting, it’s important to understand why the prospect said no:

  • If the prospect said “not right now,” it may be a timing issue, or they could still be figuring out where they want to direct their charitable giving for the year. Ask the prospect whether they’re open to hearing about future giving opportunities or when they would be available to discuss future projects. 
  • If the prospect said “maybe,” you can ask what kind of additional information might help them make their final decision. 
  • If the prospect says “yes” but stalls after your meeting, follow up within a couple of weeks to ask if they’d like any additional information or have further questions. 

Of course, if the prospect responds with a hard no, respect their choice and don’t push the issue further. Your organization’s mission and values won’t resonate with every prospect, which is just a fact that fundraisers must accept. However, if you see an opportunity to keep the door open, your public speaking skills will allow you to stay flexible and pivot the conversation in a productive direction. 

Dedicating yourself to ongoing fundraising professional development and public speaking advancement is a great way to become a better representative of your nonprofit’s mission. When you can communicate your organization’s goals and values to a variety of audiences and in multiple formats, you can effectively grow awareness and support for your mission. 

Patti Schutte is the CEO, Founder, and Principal Coach of Be Brilliant Presentation Group. Be Brilliant Presentation Group’s coaching system results in speakers moving from fear and avoidance to confidence and purpose. 

If fear of presenting runs through the veins of the majority, then Patti is the minority. She’ll be the one to grab the mic and quickly have the room engaged, laughing, and learning. Not skills you’d expect from someone who has a degree in mathematics. Her unique combination of being analytically minded, extroverted, charismatic, and skilled in presenting and training has guided her career journey. Her diverse presentation experiences include classroom and corporate training, growing and motivating an independent sales force, developing a team of national presenters, speaking at conferences, and transforming the presentation skill of professionals. She believes everyone deserves the advantage of brilliant presentation and speaking skills. 

If you are tired of giving subpar presentations, frustrated by the opportunity loss you’ve experienced, want to streamline your presentation process, and are motivated to learn and improve, Be Brilliant Presentation Group is ready to work with you! Patti’s four-step process efficiently gets you from the brainstorming phase to completed, well-practiced slides that you’re proud of and a feeling of preparedness for your presentation. Patti has had many people say they accomplish more in 30 minutes with her than they did in two full days without her.


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