If you find yourself too often at a loss for the right words or on the other end of the spectrum speaking endless babble about your favorite nonprofit to that poor soul who harmlessly introduced herself to you read on.

Like the elevator speech executive coaches train professionals to fine tune about themselves, every nonprofit volunteer and professional needs to equipped to effectively and articulately explain their organization and their involvement in 15- 30 seconds. Not much time to say something meaningful and memorable is it? Well, since everyone has gotten aboard the Twitter bandwagon, this should be a piece of cake, right? My experience with lots of nonprofit leaders suggests telling a willing new acquaintance about one’s beloved organization in simple, compelling words is not so easy. And it leaves too many smart and well-meaning people feeling inadequate and frustrated.

The Twitter test is actually a fun way to start thinking about those 140 characters or less that will most powerfully get your explanation across. But first, think about these concepts and then put them to the Twitter test.

  1. It’s all and always will be about the listener – not about you, not directly about your organization, not about your important friends or even what a great program. Really, step back and tell that willing audience-of-one something they want to hear. How will you know what they want to hear? Good question. You need to ask a few questions and actually listen to their response. You need to understand their interests and what they do out in the world. That gives you a place to start from and with practice a way to weave into the short conversation [aka your “commercial” about your organization] a message about your organization if it fits. The key is fitting your elevator speech into a framework that gives the person listening something she or he actually cares to hear about and values.
  2. You need to be ready. Ready with the key three things that you can tell about your organization that it actually does and that you can frame in a way that is responsive to the interests of your listener. And you need to nimble enough to do it in under 30 seconds. Do not tell that listener how many countries your organization serves unless he has been to at least three of them; do not talk about how much money it raises unless she is into micro-finance or arbitrage ; do not go on and on about who sits on your board unless he is a board member of at least two organizations where these people also sit; and certainly do not offer a litany of the critical needs of those served by your organization unless you know that will be of specific interest to your listener. Instead, tell that good listener three things about your organization that it delivered over the past year and what the impact was. Or, tell one great story about your organization’s work that is personal, compelling and representative of its purpose. In other words, a wow story that most people will find worth hearing. Tough to do in 30 seconds.
  3. But do not fear. If you have prepared and practiced, you now need to be ready to go further. Meaning, if someone is really interested in what you just told them, you need to be ready to expand on the conversation with more information, to know how to help them gain even more information and how to get in contact with someone who can guide them through a welcoming engagement.
  4. You need to practice. Really. Stand in front of a mirror and pretend you are speaking with a total stranger about your favorite organization. You will sound clumsy and awkward at first, but after several run-throughs you will get better and eventually be polished enough to take your elevator speech on the vertical road. Hopefully, the route is straight up. Good luck and enjoy! Oh, and please put it out there on Twitter for all of us to react to.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.