Mastering Social Impact and CSR Strategy Part 5: Pitching your Strategy

In today’s episode, you’ll learn about the pitch phase of building your social impact strategy. We explore how to develop your presentation to leadership or executives. How to frame your presentation, when to pitch and then what to do after.

In today’s video, you’ll learn about the advocacy phase of building your social impact strategy. We chat with Nicole McPhail, Co-founder and Managing Partner with Darwin Pivot, and explore how to find your employee and executive champions and how to keep them engaged. We also discuss where to find the unlikely advocates and how to line them up before making your strategy pitch.

Watch, listen to read the full series on developing a social impact and CSR strategy:

Part 1: The Research phase

Part 2: The Articulate phase

Part 3: Benchmarking

Part 4: Finding Champions

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Karl Yeh:




Karl Yeh: 

So today my guest is Nicole McPhail, who is the co-founder and managing partner of Darwin Pivot. And we're going to be talking about building a social impact strategy. We're actually in part five, so we've gone through part one, which is the research phase. Part two, the articulate phase, which is where you focus on being clear and concise about the problem or problems that you're looking your program will be looking to solve. The back it up phase, the advocacy phase, you've got your advocates. So Nicole, what is part five?

What is "The Pitch" part of building a social impact strategy?

Nicole McPhail:                                               

Part five is taking everything that you have learned and researched and discussed and advocated for.

And so part five is all about putting together that pitch.

And honestly, I think that this is one of the hardest steps because you need to be concise and you need to understand how you're going to have the most bang for your buck and pack the most punch, how many cliche one-liners can I say, in order to get that buy-in from the decision makers that you are presenting to.

Karl Yeh:                                             

So who exactly are you pitching to?

Who is "The Pitch" for?

Nicole McPhail:                                                                                              

Yeah, it depends.

So a lot of it has to do with, and I say this a lot, what type of company and industry you're in, how far along you are, and a social impact journey within your company.

So if it's brand new, you might be pitching this or positioning this to stakeholders that you have identified throughout the process.

So maybe this is your CEO, if you're a smaller company and they're more involved than at an arms length with the employees.

Or if you're a larger company and you might be positioning this to a bunch of a C-suite that you have pre-identified, or even just one executive who might be your champion to bring it into their peers.

So it could be head of HR, it could be the VP of Finance.

It all depends on what you're solving for, what the value proposition is, therefore where that would sit in the business and who you should be trying to influence.

Karl Yeh:                                             

So most of the time when you're pitching, especially any programs, you're pitching to a group of people, most likely some sort of executive team, maybe a group of executives, maybe a leadership team.

Now, in the past I've had success pitching to that group, but first pitching to maybe one or two people of that group that you know are your champions or supportive where they can back you up in that meeting when you're pitching.

Is that something that you would recommend?

Who to Pitch to first?


Nicole McPhail:                                               

Yeah, a hundred percent.

And that, if you haven't listened to the fourth step, a lot of that comes into backing it up and gaining those champions and getting those advocates.

I mean, if you already have a CSR committee, you probably don't need this pitch, but maybe you're using the same process to pitch a different program that falls within your corporate social responsibility or social impact strategy.

So to your point, Karl, say you have a CSR committee or a foundation board, I would never go in cold.

I would always have one-on-one meetings where you can with some of the leaders that would be representing and backing you up in there and not just... that might sound manipulative, it's not the case.

You also want to make sure that they are supportive and you're getting their feedback before you go in there because they know a lot more than you would know about what's going on in the business and what those others might actually care about.

Karl Yeh:                                             

So for the pitch itself, is there a format, is there a way that you run through this?

Obviously it depends on the business or the program or what you're trying to solve, but is there something sort of a template that some of our listeners could follow?

Template or format for The Pitch

Nicole McPhail:                                               

Yeah, and you know what? Because like you mentioned, everyone is a little bit different.

What I could offer are some best practices for how you might want to structure it and that gives you a bit of flexibility for the actual template.

1. Be empathetic towards your audience and their why

Okay. So the first thing is typically when you are in a meeting with an executive level person, and excuse me for people who already know this, but if you don't, you should know that you probably won't get a lot of time and they don't have the same amount of context and maybe not even the same amount of passion that you have for what it is you're presenting.

So before you go in there, you really have to put on the eyes and ears and hearts of the other person to think about what they're going through, what they're experiencing, and how you're going to capture their attention.

And the reason why I say that is I think it happens sometimes where people go in and they're saying, well, I want a giving and volunteering program because it's a good thing to have and other companies are doing it and I'm really passionate about it.

But it's like, okay, well from the executive's perspective, say they're in finance, they're going, well, there's a lot of other priorities, say learning development opportunities or DE&I initiatives that are not currently connected to social impact.

So what?

So I think the reason why I say that is put on the hat and shoes of the other person and think about their why and start with that.

So that's the first sort of guiding principle.

And this might look like the why could be a problem that the company is experiencing that you're solving with social impact.

So maybe there is well-known reputational challenges, and so social impact could serve as a solution to that.

And you could start off with saying 64% of consumers would boycott a brand, or they would switch to a brand, for instance, if they knew that the company was socially responsible.

Or from an employee perspective, maybe you're experiencing high levels of turnover like a lot of companies are, and you know that social impact is a really important part of how people are evaluating where they want to work.

Purpose is at the forefront, so you could come in with, here's the problem and this is where things are going and this is the data that supports why purpose-filled organizations matter and this is how we can actually solve for that.

So I would say that's how you think about opening the conversation.

2. Provide presentation and pre-read materials in advance

And related to the time issue and the lack of context issue that I mentioned before, I would say before you even go into this meeting, make sure that you're sending out the pre-read in advance so leaders can go in and kind of have an understanding generally of what's going to be presented, so they're not overloaded with information and you might get to a resolution faster. Alongside that, also having a glossary of terms, so things like a matching gifts program or Dollars for Doers.

That might not be something that your company's decision makers know about. So make sure that you have clarity on those pieces.

3. Include Internal and external context”

Then the last thing in terms of setting context, just make sure that you are looking externally and internally for context.

So maybe you're using data points that demonstrate the why behind what you're doing, but when it comes to the actual decisions made, this is a lot of money and these people need to know what other companies of size and industry might be doing, how much they're spending, what they're doing.

And I don't like using benchmarking down the road because I think it limits your innovation, but when you're trying to get in the door and mitigate risk and anxiety around making a decision like this, having that context can really help you solidify your case.

And then of course the internal context, which is our people care about this, our consumers care about this.

So it's not just the broader story, it's also company specific.

Karl Yeh:                                             

Once you have your pitch or your pitch deck or your program ready, providing it to whoever is going to be sitting in on that presentation a couple of days before, even a couple of weeks before, so they can get a gist of it instead of you going in really cold and then looking at it for the very first time.

So I think that's always an awesome way to at least get a little bit of traction and maybe even get some of those objections out before, because I feel whenever you go into a presentation, and this could be any presentation, if you get objections in that presentation, it could snowball with other people running objections.

But if you can kind of hit the objections either in the presentation or beforehand, I think you're that much better off.

Nicole McPhail:                                               

Awesome point.

Emily, my business partner, and I actually talk about a challenge network a lot.

So I think if you are pitching this, if you have someone watch you do this presentation in advance, don't just ask people that are currently passionate and in the know on these things, reach out to someone in a completely different domain or industry and pitch it and see what questions or concerns or things like that that they might have that can help you get ahead of some of those objections that you're talking about too.

Which you're right, I've seen this before. It can be a complete nightmare because then it just pulls the thread and then you're just deflated going, well, this isn't going to work.

Karl Yeh:                                             

And I think that really puts the spotlight on the benefits of that executive champion who could probably let you know, well, these are the things that certain other executives or members are very concerned about or in the past have shown that they're really excited about so maybe you can tailor your presentation to this point and this point and try to lower on these other points to really make it more effective.

But moving on though, is timing of your presentation important? And I'm thinking the first thing that comes to my head is maybe budget, around budget timing.

Do you do it right before?

Do you do it right after?

In your experience, is there a good time to have this presentation or pitch?

When’s the best time to make your pitch?

Nicole McPhail:                                               

Because it takes time to socialize these things, I would say typically end of Q4, everyone is stressing about money, cuts are happening. Q1 opens up a whole bunch of new budgets, but there's a lot of new priorities and I wouldn't go in Q1, but I would start socializing in Q2 because by the time you get those conversations, say it is the beginning of Q4, then you're lining people up who are thinking about budgets for the prior year, and it might be a little bit more timely.

Also, time comes into consideration when you think about potential things that are going on in the business. So I would say make sure you talk to an HR business partner to get some advice on when you should be doing these conversations because say a merger and acquisition is happening or a massive layoff, where they're not going to be wanting to invest in something else, but maybe they would be more open to it, say two quarters later.

Just make sure you understand that.

The other person that you can reach out to is if you are, say, presenting to a CEO or a C-suite that has an executive assistant, they know what's going on and they know their bosses very, very well and might be able to give you some guidance on how they like to be presented to you.

When is a good time, do they like pre-reads, that type of stuff to set yourself up for success.

Karl Yeh:                                             

So let's say you're finished the presentation, what are some next steps do you think you've seen happen and maybe how can you manage your own expectations?

Because I would imagine after you pitch it, you are excited, hopefully you've got everyone else excited, and then what happens?

What happens after The Pitch?

Nicole McPhail:                                               

Yeah, and I think part of this should be in the structure of your presentation.

So if you open with a big one-liner that addresses the current landscape and what you're solving for, I think you follow up with what it is you're pitching, why it's important for the company, then I would say a slide or maybe two on how you're actually going to accomplish this, but don't go too granular because they don't want to get into the weeds.

But show them that they can be confident that you at least at a high level know what that is.

So maybe it's putting together a small team, maybe it's testing it through a pilot, maybe it's a technology that's going to help scale it.

I think that is the first way to sort of structure their thinking around the how.

And then typically when I end the presentation, I've already thought of possible objections.

So knowing a very specific budget, knowing everything that you need to know so you can answer it on the spot and really utilize the time that you have, but also managing those expectations that it might not happen.

So if it doesn't happen, I usually recommend having a couple of little tricks in your pocket, which is, okay, maybe you don't want to do this company-wide, but can we do this in a small test group to see how employees feel about it, measure it.

Or maybe it's not employees, maybe it's an external campaign. See how consumers are responding.

I would say a pilot is a great idea and if not, I think asking some follow-up questions, whether in the spot when you have everyone or after the fact saying, would you be comfortable sharing what your main objections or apprehensions are about this?

So then you can structure your thinking for what you might do if you were to pivot and try something else. Just having that information be helpful.

Karl Yeh:                                             

So do you have anything else to add for the pitch when building your strategy?

Nicole McPhail:                                               

Short is better.

Keep them hungry for more information so you can follow up.

So say five, maybe six slides. Don't overload with information. So on the slides, make sure that it's really clear, try and use infographics and visually appealing things that someone can open up from their email first, scroll through, get the picture without even being there.

Never ever introduce something new in that meeting that's not in the pre-reads, because I've seen it. I'm sure you have too, Carl.

That can be a rabbit hole.

Next thing you know we're talking about, I don't know, how expensive tea is in Toronto. It just goes haywire sometimes.

Make sure that you don't bombard with data points.

Keep those concise and directly aligned with your why. I think sometimes people find good new research and they want to include it, but don't. If you have something that's really exciting, throw it in the appendix.

That's a good spot for stuff like that. And be inspiring. I think this is a big part of it because social impact isn't just about dollars and cents. You can do well by doing good, but people have hearts and a lot of those people that might be in the meeting are potentially doing some of this stuff anyways.

So think about the emotional side of things when you're presenting it, not just the data points. And then I guess the final part would be, that other than knowing your stuff, sounding like an expert, having things memorized.

If you don't know something, don't fake it. People can see right through that. Just say you'll look into it. I think that's a big part of just building that trust and knowing it's going to take time. You probably won't get it your first pitch.

Karl Yeh:                                             

If any of our audience wants to connect with you and learn more, where's the best place to reach you?

Nicole McPhail:                                       

Or you can find us at