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Three minutes matter; two NKY nonprofits emerge in Social Venture Partners’ fourth Fast Pitch event

Cincinnati Ballet’s Julie Sunderland was a SVP Fast Pitch winner.

By Vicki Prichard
NKyTribune reporter

While Kentucky’s Churchill Downs hosts the most exciting two minutes in sports, Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch event may very well host the most critical three minutes for area nonprofits.

On March 1, ten area nonprofits, including Northern Kentucky’s Faith Community Pharmacy and Women’s Crisis Center, will make their three-minute pitch for important grant dollars when Social Venture Partners (SVP) hosts its fourth annual Fast Pitch competition at the Duke Energy Center.

The event culminates in more than $30,000 in awards; juried prizes; grand, second and third prizes; merit awards; and an audience choice award. Among the event judges are the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation, Fifth/Third Bank, and Interact for Health.

Embracing a philosophy of hands-on philanthropy, SVP does more than write checks.

As Greater Cincinnati’s home for engaged philanthropists, SVP Cincinnati is part of an international network of 3500 partners who invest their time, talent, and grant money in innovative ways to strengthen local nonprofits. Their goal is to enable its investees to make the region a stronger and more vibrant community.

Tara Leen of Faith Community Pharmacy

Borrowing a technique from the venture capital and startup community, SVP provides training to teach nonprofits how to share their stories, showcasing the impact they make on the community, and deliver them in a three-minute competitive pitch. Fast Pitch trains nonprofits in telling their story in a way that speaks to their significance, innovation, and impact.

An evening to entertain and inspire

SVP’s final Fast Pitch event, which entertains and inspires, not only presents non-profits an opportunity to receive important grant dollars, but serves to educate people about nonprofits they didn’t know of, and learn what they’re doing in the community.

“I’ve heard stories of people getting a board member because the story spoke to them,” says Lauren Merton, SVP’s executive director. “We’ve also had stories from nonprofits that they made connections with other nonprofits through the program.”

Merton says the annual Fast Pitch final event has “grown like crazy” over the years. With 100 people in attendance its first year, last year’s numbers swelled to 550. This year, Merton says they anticipate 750 to attend the event. And the awards are expanding too.

“We’re expanding awards and making it more fun interactive and fun so the audience can participate.”

Perfecting the pitch

Merton, who has a corporate background, points out that while corporate America is generally well trained in elevator pitches, that’s not always the case for nonprofits. Being able to clearly articulate your organization’s story on the fly, she says – one that incorporates details, heartstring stories, and an individual’s passion – is all too often something that most nonprofit executive directors and marketing folks aren’t trained in. SVP fills that void through the training nonprofits receive when they participate in Fast Pitch. In the end, whether or not they win the big prize, they still walk away with something significant.

“So, even if you’re not a big winner, you’ve gone through the process of what you do, what’s your most compelling story – you memorize it, and you’ve thought through what makes a good pitch,” says Merton.

Julie Sunderland, who gave the pitch last year for Cincinnati Ballet’s Ballet Moves, which partners with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to work with children with Down Syndrome, secured $21,000 for that program. She says the experience was a “game-changer.”

And while the money allowed them to start a program they had been dreaming of – expanding it to work with children with cerebral palsy, and step up the quality of the work they were doing — the experience went beyond the money.

“It’s a gift just to be in this program, just to be part of SVP – to take something that you’re super passionate about and make it interesting for just three minutes,” says Sunderland. “I wrote it [the pitch] a year ago, and I still tell it all the time; I expand on it. It is now the foundation for how lots of people at the ballet communicate about what we do. I gave my same speech for those people to learn.”

Jamie Sivrais with Women’s Crisis Center

This year, the 25 nonprofits that emerged from SVP’s original 45 applicants, spent three and a half weeks practicing their pitch until they got it right before they delivered it at SVP’s Fast Pitch semi-final competition, held at Cincinnati’s 580 building. The ten finalists who emerged will continue their tutelage, working with Cincinnati Ensemble Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director, D. Lynn Meyers and Jay Shatz, an Emmy-winning reporter, and owner a local production company.

Making a difference beyond the competition

Joel Bokelman, president of the nonprofit ChangingGears, has witnessed the broad impact of SVP’s Fast Pitch. ChangingGears drives change through car donations, providing affordable, restored vehicles to people working their way out of poverty.

“At Fast Pitch in 2015 we won the Innovation the Matters award which came with a $10,000 prize. The prize money was used to add a third repair bay to our garage, so we could expand our capacity to process donated cars,” says Bokelman. “The prize money was great, but the coaching and connections throughout the process had an even bigger impact on our organization by helping us bring in even more resources to fuel our organization and get more cars ready for our clients.”

Bokelman says that having experienced the value that SVP brings to an organization through Fast Pitch, they’re excited to start their three year partnership as SVP’s next Investee.

As an SVP investee, ChangingGears receives a total grant of $60,000 over the next three years and additional consulting and help expand the number of clients who achieve affordable, private transportation which allows clients to find jobs not limited by bus system’s routes and schedules, saving time getting to work, dropping kids off to childcare and accomplishing daily tasks through the empowerment of vehicle ownership.


When the lights go up and the timer starts ticking at the SVP fourth annual Fast Pitch, the nonprofits weaving their succinct, three-minute tales of impact include:

Adopt-a-Class, a group mentoring experience that connects businesses and civic groups with students, inspiring a corporate culture of teamwork and philanthropy and hope and a future vision of what is possible for the youth in our community;

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, whose education program sees 50,000 students from 200 schools in three states each year;

Cincinnati Union Cooperative, which partners with individuals and organizations to create worker-owned businesses that sustain families;

Jake Bokelman of Changing Gears receives his check

Circle Tail, provides service and hearing dogs for people with disabilities at no cost to the individual;

Crayons to Computers, serves the educational and imaginative needs of children in the Greater Cincinnati area by providing a unique means to transfer donated, value purchased, and created product from businesses and individuals free to teachers for use in their classrooms and schools;

Drug Free Clubs of America, a voluntary program in which high school students with parental permission submit to voluntary drug testing;

Faith Community Pharmacy, provides necessary medications and pharmaceutical care to those unable to pay, without regard to race, creed, or national origin in the Northern Kentucky Community; Per Scholas, which open doors to transformative technology careers for individuals from often overlooked communities;

Women’s Crisis Center Green Dot, a nationally recognized strategy focused on preventing power-based personal violence – sexual violence, partner violence, child abuse, elder abuse, bullying, and stalking; and

Wordplay Cincinnati, a community of experts, artists, volunteers, and donors who are partner to equip Cincinnati’s K-12th grade children and teens for success through learning programs that focus on reading, writing, and communicating.

In addition to the competition between the ten finalists, all nonprofits that competed in the Fast Pitch semi-finals will eligible for a range of awards that evening which include, consulting, video applications, on air radio interviews, jewelry raffle proceeds, and event promotion prizes.

Tickets for the 2017 Fast Pitch event can be purchased online. Doors open at 5:30 pm, event begins at 6:30 pm. The event features a cash bar, small bites and after-party for everyone attending.

Event sponsors include The Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation, Fifth/Third Bank, Interact for Health, Skystone Partners, Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub, BrandFlick, Ignite Philanthropy Advisors, Prestige AV & Creative Sources, Philip Bortz Jewelers, Mercedes-Benz Fort Mitchell, and American Solutions for Business.

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