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Shout it Out! 4 Nonprofit Public Speaking Tips to Help You Fearlessly Share Your Good News . . .

Updated: Apr 25

Guy with bullhorn shouting Tom Iselin's has the best strategic planning facilitation

4 Nonprofit Public Speaking Tips to Share Your Good News


Whether or not you consider yourself a good speaker, you’re probably quite tuned in to people who speak well and those who don’t. A Zoom meeting host that and starts and ends every sentence with “ums” and “ahs” will cause attendees eyes to roll. A bor­ing keynote speaker is the bane of conference goers and provides an excuse to walk out early to check emails. And a rambling, monotone podcaster will send listeners searching for another show in seconds.

On the other hand, it’s easy to listen to good speakers and admire them for their talent. They make you smile. They give you goose bumps. They inspire you to join a cause, persuade you to change an opinion, and motivate you to write checks. Everyone loves a good speech—you just hope someone doesn’t ask you to give one! You’d rather hide in a closet.

Public speaking is part of everyday life at a nonprofit. Program manag­ers teach new staff, volunteer coordinators train volunteers, chief execu­tives make fundraising speeches, and board members speak to commu­nity ser­vice organizations. Everyone answers phones, greets visitors, and talks about his or her favorite nonprofit around town.

Why is public speaking important?

Public speaking is a cornerstone of successful nonprofits because speaking is the communication vehicle used most often to share information. A non­profit whose staff and board are made up of good speakers has a distinct competitive advantage because so many nonprofits shy away from speak­ing opportunities—internally and publicly.

Anyone who has attended a major fundraising event knows the success of an event often depends on a keynote speaker’s ability to inspire the audi­ence, an auctioneer’s ability to motivate donors to give, a chief executive’s abil­ity to talk passionately about an organization, and a beneficiaries abil­ity to share their experience.

The ability of a chief executive to give a great speech or compelling in­terview is essential, but more important is the ability of staff and board members to speak well in their given roles. Effective speech at every level of nonprofit operations improves work productivity and effi­ciency, and we all know a business functions best when communication is plainly spoken and clearly understood.

Effective public speaking can also improve your nonprofit’s image. Your staff and board are front and center in the community. The better they can communicate the great work you’re doing and the impact you’re making, the greater the likelihood they will win the hearts and minds of people they talk with, while earning respect and credibility for your non­profit.

A great speech by a board chair may incite dozens of people to action, and something as simple as a friendly, two-minute phone call between your office manager and a donor may make a profound impression that transforms a minor donor into a major one.

Effective speaking, like effective writing, is another secret of success that flies under the radar of most nonprofits. Smart leaders of high-performance nonprofits know it’s a tool of tremendous power and influ­ence, and use it strategically to accomplish their objectives and ful­fill their mission.

Be wise and do the same. Make effective speaking and public speaking top priorities at your nonprofit, and start applying the tactics below today.

Tactics and Tips

1. Everyone is a spokesperson

Public speaking is not a task reserved for chief executives in order to raise money at fundraising galas. Staff, board members, and volunteers speak publicly every time they conduct a training session, talk with par­ents, teach children, call business partners, attend a jazz festival, or shop for groceries. Everyone is a spokesperson, and the better everyone can articulate what you do, the more effective your nonprofit will be at ful­filling its mission.

If you want to build a team of good speakers, people need to know what to say. Look for ways to encourage staff, board members, and volunteers to memorize mission statements, recite core values, read collateral material, and understand program functions. Staff may be busy running programs and managing operations, but it’s important they not forget the pillars on which their nonprofit stands.

Sharpen the knowledge of your staff, board members, and volunteers by providing time at meetings and training sessions to share information and answer ques­tions. Explain the budgeting process or share the out­comes of the last board meeting. Discuss the latest changes to program­ming and how it will affect volunteer scheduling.

No matter what you discuss, remember the goal is to encourage the people connected with your nonprofit to learn more about how and why it oper­ates the way it does so they can confidently share what they know with others.

Role-playing and coaching are two other ways to improve speaking skills. At random times, ask staff and volunteers to recite your mis­sion or core values, or ask someone to give an overview of the work they do, pro­gram they oversee, or an operational function they perform.

If you have inexperienced fundraising staff, sit in on some of their do­nor calls, so you can listen to the conversation and coach them on phone etiquette, selling techniques, tone, and timing.

It’s every board member’s responsibility to be a spokesperson. You’ll want to make sure they understand the important aspects of program­ming, operations, and fundraising, so they can share this information with friends and business associates at parties, social outings, and com­munity functions. Question and answer sessions and role-playing are just as useful for board members as they are for staff and volunteers, even more so in some cases.

Everyone connected with your nonprofit should be a spokesperson for the noble work you’re doing. Your job is to teach them what to say and to provide frequent and safe opportunities for them to practice what to say—and what not to say—and how to say it. You also want to encour­age everyone to joyfully and actively share what they know as they go about their daily lives in the community.

2. Seek out speaking opportunities

One way to differentiate your nonprofit from others is to seek out and embrace speaking opportunities, not avoid them. Community service organizations and local media are constantly looking for good speakers to share compelling stories and information of quality service work being done in the community.

You’ll secure plenty of speaking engagements just by picking up the phone and calling your local Rotary and asking to speak, or calling a local radio station or podcast host and making yourself available for an interview. If the interview goes well, you won’t have to call them for a return visit; they’ll be calling you.

As staff improves their public speaking skills, provide opportunities for them to speak at larger venues. Encourage different staff members to lead weekly staff meetings. During volunteer training sessions, invite staff members from different departments to talk about the jobs they perform and the primary functions of their departments. Participate in public outreach opportunities such as concerts, benefits, fairs, or fun runs where you can showcase your mission, and staff and board mem­bers can talk about what you do and ways to get involved.

You should also encourage selected staff to set up television, radio, and newspaper interviews. Ask managers to attend board meetings to present program and operation updates, and require your chief executive and program managers to make a certain number of presentations and public speeches each year.

If you have board members who enjoy public speaking, arrange oppor­tunities for them to speak to community service organizations such as the American Legion, Lions Club, and Jaycees.

3. Slow and easy

Almost everyone has some level of fear and anxiety when speaking to large groups, important people, or on camera. It’s natural. As you help staff and board members improve their speaking skills, you’ll want to be sensitive to the pace at which you increase their comfort levels, so they learn to welcome more challenging speaking opportunities, not repel them.

Start slowly and easily. Assess everyone’s comfort level and then estab­lish a customized plan to improve each person’s speaking skills based on each person’s desire and motivation to improve his or her skills and your needs to improve the overall speaking skills of your nonprofit.

If you’re serious about improving the speaking skills of those connected with your nonprofit, you’ll need to make room in your budget to pay for it. Allocate funds for books, classes, and webinars. If some of your staff want to join the local chapter of Toastmasters, pay their annual mem­bership dues. Let everyone know you’re committed to support quality speaking as much as you expect them to improve their speaking ability.

4. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Great speakers prepare. They study their topic and audience, make notes, and practice giving their speech dozens of times before they de­liver it live.

The best advice you can give your staff, volunteers, and board members about public speaking is to let them know how important it is to prepare. The more they prepare for a speaking engagement the more effective and comfortable they will be. This holds true whether they are holding a meeting with three staff or making a fundraising speech to 300 donors.

Here are seven tactics every speaker should use to prepare for any type of speaking engagement:

1. Be yourself. Good speakers must be authentic to sound credible. This means they need to be themselves. Everyone has their own natural style of speaking. Some people are soft spoken and personal; others are loud and charismatic. Develop a speaking style that lets your personality shine through.

2. Stick to the basics. Experienced public speakers use a handful of basic speaking techniques they know resonate with all audiences. They speak clearly, tell compelling and funny stories, and exhibit a comfortable and confident stage presence. They also know it’s important to be positive, genuine, honest, inspiring, passionate, and interesting.

3. Know the audience. Effective speakers study their audiences long be­fore making a speech. They want to know everything they can about the people they are speaking to so they can tailor a speech that appeals to their beliefs, expectations, level of education, and extent of knowledge about the sub­ject matter. The better you can do this, the more effective your speeches will be.

4. Have a specific message and theme in mind. Rambling thoughts and senseless tangents will confuse an audience. You must have a clear idea what you want to say and why you think it’s important and relevant to your audience. What is the purpose of your speech or talk? What can you say to inspire the audience? What three things do you want the audience to remember?

5. Practice, practice, and then practice some more. Great speakers practice their speeches out loud. They practice standing up and they practice in front of others. For a big speech, start practicing three weeks ahead of time. Never wing-it. When practicing at home, stand in the center of your living room and gesture to lamps and other items, pretending they’re your audience. It’s also a good idea to experiment with pitch and cadence as you practice.

6. Use note cards. Memorizing a speech is very difficult. Delivering a memorized speech can sound flat, unless the speaker has years of experience making memorized speeches. Reading a detailed speech from full-length text can sound just as dry as a memo­rized speech. It can force you to spend too much time reading a speech instead of making eye contact with your audience.

The solution? Note cards. Short phrases from key points in a speech can prompt you with enough information to allow you to speak freely about the topics you’re sharing. Note cards also act as mini outlines and can help you flow smoothly from one topic to the next.

7. Get comfortable. Public speaking makes even the most seasoned speakers a little nervous. This is common, but great speakers know they will be most effective if they feel comfortable and confident.

Every speaker must find a technique that transforms nervous energy into relaxed confidence. It helps to breathe deeply before you start speaking and during pauses in a speech. You may also find it relaxing to gesture with your hands during a speech and take time to smile at your audience.

4 Nonprofit Public Speaking Tips to Share Your Good News . . .


You can’t hide from speak­ing. It surrounds everyone, every day, all day. Nonprofits that fail to communicate effectively have difficulty raising money, motivating oth­ers, and growing. They slip into the background and remain miles short of their potential.

If you want to become a high-performance nonprofit, you need to assemble a team of staff, board members, and volunteers who speak effectively and are willing to seek out public speaking opportunities on a regular basis. If you do, you will build trust and credibility in your commu­nity, influ­ence and motivate people, differentiate from the competition, de­velop remarkable programs, and raise a lot of money.

To build a team of effective speakers, start by making effective speaking a top priority early on. Hire staff and nominate board members with public speaking experience and strong speaking skills, and keep every­one’s speaking skills sharp by providing well-funded training and practice opportunities.

Everyone connected with your nonprofit is a potential spokesperson. Once you have a team of confident, effective speakers, seek out public speaking opportunities to get as many of them involved as possible. They’re contributing to the amazing work you’re doing and making a difference, so find ways for them to publicly share the good news!

Don’t kid yourself. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there for non­profits, and those who bark best get most of the treats and attention.

BONUS: Free Accountability Policy Template! What good is it if you have a Roles and Responsibilities for your boad, but no policy in place to hold them accountable if they don't fulfill them! I’ll happily send you an Accountability Policy template. Simply send an email to and include your contact info. Put "Accountability Policy" in the subject line.

Interesting in public speaking coaching? Give me a ring . . . 858.888.2278.

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Tom Iselin

“America’s Best Board Retreat and Strategic Planning Facilitator”

Tom Iselin has built four sector-leading nonprofits and four foundations. He’s written six books, sits on six boards, and hosts a video blog and podcast. Each year, Tom speaks to more than 5,000 nonprofit leaders at conferences across the country. He is considered a leading authority on high-performance nonprofits, and his impact on the industry has been featured on CNN, Nightline, and in Newsweek.

Tom is the president of First Things First, a business specializing in board retreats, strategic planning, fundraising, and executive coaching. To relax, he loves mountain biking, hiking, skiing, tennis, and baking.

If you’re in the hunt for one of the best board retreat/board development facilitators, it would be a privilege to learn more about your organization and the aspirations you hope to achieve as you work to propel your noble mission. Jot me an email to set up a meet-and-greet call.

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