Fresh off fundraising success at last week's Philanthropitch, the CEO discusses how to pitch nonprofit ideas and the importance of paying educators.

On March 3, seven local nonprofits were featured at the Riffe Center during the second annual Philanthropitch, a rapid-fire fundraising competition in which leaders attempt to “sell” a panel of judges and a live audience on their program of choice. The event brought in just over $115,000 total for the nonprofits, with the largest sum of $24,897 going to South Side Early Learning, an educational and research center for preschool kids.

CEO Colin McGinnis had the task of pitching SSEL and its social enterprise, Project NUDL, a training and research institute that offers professional development programs for teachers. It also shares revenue with the trainees, like a professional development co-op, McGinnis says via email. “As we know, the key to quality early childhood education is a prepared and well-compensated workforce—with Project NUDL we are working to ensure quality across our community with supported teachers,” he continues. Here, McGinnis shares more about Project NUDL and his Philanthropitch experience.

How did you go about selling the project to judges and the audience in just three minutes?

I’m still not sure I quite know how I went about selling the project in just three minutes (and 12 seconds … I went over)! In all seriousness though, the easiest way to do a speed pitch is to know your program so intimately that you can have a casual conversation about it with a friend without really thinking about it. Then, build a pitch around the key points, tie it to a compelling story, and be ready to answer any questions you may have.

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Philanthropitch isn’t just about pitching ideas on stage—there’s also coaching involved. What was the most valuable piece of advice you got during that process?

Oh for sure. There is a lot of coaching involved in Philanthopitch. In fact, I actually got a bit lost in all the feedback, which is why I think the most valuable piece of advice I received during the process was to stay authentically “me.”

It is easy to feel you need to adapt your pitch to a successful formula—to spend hours watching and rewatching successful Philanthopitch-ers from across various pitch programs to learn the secret sauce. The problem with this approach, though, is you can lose touch with your program. Take the feedback you receive, make sense of what you’re being told, and use the suggestions as just that—suggestions to improve your pitch.

Did any of the judges’ questions stump you, or challenge you to think about your pitch differently?

Though the judges’ questions were fair, I worry about the disconnect between the reality of the field of early childhood and the judges’ first question around how Project NUDL will invest back into early childhood teachers, and that I may have come off as flippant. Particularly around my “pizza party” answer when I stated that organizations using NUDL would be required to invest NUDL impact dollars into their teachers, even if it was with a pizza party to help raise morale.

Ohio preschool teachers make less than their peers in 48 states, $40,000 below that of K-12 teachers, and enough less to qualify for public assistance time and time again. I think the broader community fails to realize just how few dollars are invested in early childhood. While I would love for the shared-revenue aspect of Project NUDL to be used to invest in teacher wages, for some schools and centers this might not be possible. The stipulation for programs to benefit from the shared-revenue dollars is that they must invest back into their teachers. I would encourage wage increases or bonuses, but if all the school can do is host a staff appreciation lunch or party, it is more than most providers can do now. More than anything, we just need to show our early educators we care about them.

There were lots of good nonprofits involved. Were you surprised when you took home the largest donation total? Why do you think people responded so well to your pitch?

When you are in a diverse group like I was with everyone who presented at Philanthropitch, you never know what is going to happen! Also, full disclosure, I went a bit “rogue” and changed my pitch quite a bit in the moments before it was my turn. You can definitely say I was surprised! 

I think what resonated the most with people, both in the crowd and on stage judging, is the scope of the problem we face. In the field of early childhood 35 percent of teachers turn over annually, resulting in a teacher shortage. At the same time, state and federal requirements are demanding high-quality teachers in order to access public funds. As I shared in my pitch, “The early childhood workforce is the new Wild West!” In short, we need to act! I think the audience saw that through Project NUDL, South Side Early Learning has a response to the early education workforce crisis. 

Early childhood learning has been identified as a critical piece of development for success later in life. How will funds go toward improving that crucial phase of children’s lives?

There is no doubt that the first 2,000 days may be the most important time in a person’s life—90 percent of brain development happens during this time, and the foundation for our future academic and social success is formed. 

We know relationships, particularly between a child and their teacher, are key to supporting development during this time. That is one of the reasons we focused on professional development with Project NUDL. In addition to having the best possible teachers in classrooms across Columbus (and beyond!) who are trained with the most up-to-date pedagogy, we want to ensure we are recruiting and retaining the best to be early childhood teachers. To do that, we need to ensure those professionals are adequately compensated and supported. 

Funds from Philanthropitch will help launch Project NUDL. We are aiming to train 384 teachers over the next year, which in turn will impact nearly 7,000 littles in our community! 

Beyond the money, what are the benefits of participating in an event like this?

Exposure! Every opportunity we have had to pitch and share Project NUDL is another opportunity for someone to hear about our plan to ensure every classroom has a teacher that is prepared and well-compensated. 

I have been blown away at the number of community members that have stood up to support early childhood educators, Project NUDL and our work at South Side Early Learning. 

OK, a chance to throw some love toward the other nonprofits. Who else really impressed you with their pitch?

All six other organizations have my admiration, but I have to throw love toward our friends at Zora’s House and Bridgeway Academy, who both presented amazing pitches.

If I can, while not finalists this year, I also have to throw love to the true queens of pitching—the exceptional ladies of ROX—who were my inspiration after an amazing performance at last year's 2019 Philanthropitch.

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