Fundraising Ideas That Work

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What is a nine second speech?

Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

The following article has been excerpted with permission of the publisher for use here. It is from my book: Chutzpah Marketing. This excerpt is copyrighted.


Mary really cares for her local animal shelter, but the truth be told she would rather work with the abandoned pets than talk with the public. She told me, “During Shelter Awareness Month I become a nervous wreck. I’m supposed to sell 200 raffle tickets and my stomach is in knots.” Mary is not alone, she loves her cause, but the “selling” part of fundraising is difficult for her. Mary just doesn’t know what to say about the raffle, but when I asked her about her volunteer work at the shelter, she had love in her stories for the four legged friends she felt privileged to work with.

What’s a 9-second speech?

A 9-second speech is a mini verbal performance that teaches the listener about your cause.

It is my experience that 9-seconds is the longest that any mini-speech should go. Most are less. It is socially acceptable to dominate a conversation for a little bit, while you get your thoughts out. I have found that most people are comfortable with letting me yammer away for up to 9 seconds.

If you had 9-seconds to discuss your favorite charity to any of the following, what would you say?

Medical doctor

Cab driver




Office worker


Police officer





Funeral home director

Soccer coach


High school teacher

Pre-school director



Throughout the year you will have hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to talk about your good cause. If you had only 9-seconds what would you say. In those 9-seconds, what are the best words to say what needs to be said?

Building a 9-second speech

You can probably speak 25 words, clearly, in 9-seconds. The problem comes when you have to limit yourself to only 25 words to get your point across. If someone asks you at a party, “What do you do?” What is your reply?

“I’m a plumber.”

“I’m an accountant.”

“I manage a restaurant.”

“I volunteer at Four Rivers Animal Shelter.”

I recently heard a house painter, when asked this by a surgeon say, “Oh, I’m just a house painter.” My heart skipped a beat. The surgeon tossed him a softball, and the house painter forgot to bring a bat! “Oh, I’m just a house painter.” Sounded like, “I don’t do anything important. Please don’t notice me.”

In this situation, what would you say? How could you talk up you cause? —even when you were nervous.

You have a potential donor’s ear for the next few seconds, what would be the best thing to say? How would you use this opportunity to sell your organization?  This is not an easy question. If it were, everyone would be able to do it.

First you have to define what you want to teach.

What do you want to teach about your charity?

You are going to be teaching about your charity—but not directly. You have to focus on the person you are talking to. You have to solve a need for that individual.

If you had answered the surgeon with, “I’m a house painter. I paint houses and sometimes offices.” The surgeon probably would have gotten a polite smile on his face and fluttered away like an opportunity lost. Nothing against the surgeon, but you simply would have bored him.

But, if you were to speak to him directly about his needs, he would be captivated. Most people love to talk about themselves and their own interests.

If I were a house painter I would speak to the surgeon’s potential needs. I would hope that the surgeon owned property and that the property needed painting. If the surgeon didn’t own property, I would hope that he knew someone who did own property. To stimulate the conversation towards our mutual interests I would say, “I paint buildings, I specialize in adding value to buildings for resale or investment purposes.”

He then might reply, “Value, huh? How much value can you add to a building?” Now you are talking to the surgeon about something that he is interested in and that you can help him with.

If I were a volunteer for Four Rivers Animal Shelter, I might say, “I help out the four footed friends that are down on their luck at Four Rivers Animal Shelter.”

The surgeon might say, “Hate critters, allergies. Hate them all!” At this point I know we are done with pets, so I change the subject.

But the surgeon might have said, “I got my Buttons from there!”

“Buttons, what a great name! What is Buttons?” Personally, I am very fond of furry and scaly things, so I can converse all night about the wonders of pet friendship. At the right time, I’ll bring up ways Dr. Surgeon might want to help Four Rivers Animal Shelter. If you are me focused, the listener hears only that you want something from him. But, if you focus on him, he is very comfortable having the conversation continue.

Teaching others to talk glowingly about your charity work

The goal of the 9-second speech is to teach the listener about your organization or fundraising project. You want to give them information in a manner that is relevant to them so that they can use it, or pass it on to someone else to use.

My friend Sara is a vegetarian. As she often states, “I don’t eat anything with a face.” When she returned from a trip to Arizona, she told me about this restaurant that is trying to kill people.

“They boast that they have the highest calorie food in the world,” she said. “They cook their fries in lard!”

“What’s the place called?” I asked.

“The Heart Attack Grill; it’s just south of Phoenix, in Chandler, Arizona. You’d love it! If you are over 350 pounds you eat for free!”

I would like to point out that a skinny devout vegetarian, who regularly voices concern about my weight, just did a hell of a job selling me on a restaurant that she would never eat at. The Heart Attack Grill did a great job of teaching their 9-second speech. In fact, such a great job that their message traveled over a thousand miles free of charge. This is the power of 9-second speeches. Your message travels!

Develop your 9-second speeches

Your homework assignment is to write 9-second speeches. Think of all the places you run into potential donors: stores, your child’s soccer practice, school events, movie theaters, and church. You make hundreds of incidental contacts every week that are great 9-second speech opportunities for your charity.

Write down your 9-second speech

You need to write down your 9-second speech and practice it. You need to be able to present your 9-second speech naturally, as if it was your first time ever saying it. Your 9-second speech has to feel like an old friend, but be presented as a new vivacious friend.

When writing your 9-second speeches, overwrite. Write too much at first, then cut away the repetition and useless parts. Play around with your word choices. Re-write, and re-write some more. Your 9-second speeches have to feel correct and comfortable to you. I assume that no other person could use my exact 9-second speeches. Nine-second speeches have to be personalized by you, in your style, to the person you are talking to.

Enjoy the process. As the old joke goes, a tourist asks a New York cab driver, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The cabbie replies,  “Practice, practice, practice.”

9 Second speech in action

As some of you may know, in the real world I am a psychotherapist and have been one for well over 30 years. A charity I care a great deal about is Redding Jujitsu Academy, in Redding, Ca. So, let me show you my 9-second speech about this wonderful 501(C)3 charity.

Remember a 9-second speech is practiced and memorized. It is delivered in a calm tone. So even if I am not in the mood to “sell” my charity, I still can. My 9-second speeches are underlined.

“Hi Dr. Phil, do you play golf?”

“Never really have, it seems too slow. My sport of choice is Jujitsu.”

“Jujitsu, is that like karate?”

“Kind off, it’s a martial art but it’s a lot of grappling and throwing.”

“Wow, does it hurt?”

“Sometimes, but it’s mainly character building, it is really good for kids and teenagers.”

“Teaching kids to fight?”

“Not really, we spend a lot of time teaching kids how to avoid a fight. The most powerful weapon is the mind.”

“My kids need to learn how to control themselves, how much does it cost?”

“We’re a charity, we keep the costs down, you should come watch a kids class, it’s amazing.”

Can you teach someone to say your 9-second speech?

Sure you can, but there tends to be two problems.

First, as a teacher you have to be OK with your student saying it their way. A 9-second speech has to be in the speaker’s own comfortable words. Words they truly believe in.

Second, your student needs to focus on the part of the charity work that feels most rewarding for them. That may not be the part of the charity work you find most rewarding.

With this in mind, I find it best to teach the process of developing a 9-second speech that is correct for them, more so than teaching someone to parrot my 9-second speech.

All that being said, it brings me warm fuzzies when I hear someone using one of my 9-second speeches comfortably as their own.

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