Community services such as food pantries, health care and homeless shelters are more in demand than ever since the pandemic began, yet many of the nonprofit organizations managing these essential services continue to face enormous challenges due to an ongoing lack of funding and resources.
Enter Desert Fast Pitch, a lively fundraising contest in which nonprofit leaders powerfully communicate their needs in a three-minute pitch for funding. The goal: to win more than $65,000 in cash grants and build awareness and visibility from community leaders in the process.
The "Shark Tank"-style big event, on hiatus for the past two years due to the pandemic, will be take Thursday, Oct. 6, from 2 to 5 p.m. at UCR Palm Desert Campus. Desert Fast Pitch will attract more than 300 philanthropic, business, civic and nonprofit leaders and is expected to sell out.
The quick-fire contest is sponsored by the Regional Access Project (RAP) Foundation and presented through its key NPO Centric Program, which serves to strengthen, support and build the capacity of nonprofits.
“This is a high-profile event that lets the community know who we are and what nonprofits do for our community,” says RAP Foundation CEO Leticia De Lara. “The program also helps participants develop key skills, foster new relationships, gain exposure and increase their organizations’ ability to attract new resources.”
Twelve Coachella Valley nonprofits were selected to compete in this year’s friendly contest. Each nonprofit is receiving $1,000 to participate in workshops leading up to a semi-final, where six were chosen earlier this week to compete at the final showdown on Oct. 6 when they will make their best pitches before a panel of judges.
The 12 nonprofits participating this year include ACT for MS, Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, Dr. Carreón Foundation, Elder Love USA, Food Now, Learning Different Alliance, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Coachella Valley, Palm Springs Dance Project, Palm Springs International Piano Competition, Safe Schools Desert Cities, Shay’s Warriors Life After Cancer and United Cerebral Palsy of the Inland Empire.
“The concepts being presented through this program are very valuable and should be part of every nonprofit’s curriculum,” says Ann Greer, executive director of the Palm Springs International Piano Competition. “Representing a classical music organization, I wanted to be involved to gain more insight into making difficult funding pitches to non-classical music supporters and to expand what I know.”
The participating nonprofits each serve residents of eastern Riverside County and are currently in the midst of a 10-week training and mentoring program run by NPO Centric that includes marketing, branding and presentation coaching. Their work culminates in the Oct. 6 live event where the most compelling pitch is awarded a top prize of $20,000, the most innovative pitch receives $15,000 and the audience choice earns $10,000.
“I’m overcoming every fear I have in making a three-minute pitch to create awareness, education and advocacy for all the kids struggling with mental health issues in the valley,” says Jennifer Cummings, founder of Learning Different Alliance. “This is an amazing opportunity to create awareness and get action.”
NPO Centric Director Stephanie Minor is a former Desert Fast Pitch winner herself. In 2018, when she was director of development at Martha’s Village & Kitchen, her powerful three-minute pitch about the plight of homeless children in California won the $20,000 top prize toward the creation of a space in the residential unit of Martha’s Village exclusively for homeless children.
“The goal is to help nonprofits more effectively communicate their story in order to raise the funding they need to be self-sustaining,” Minor says. “The participants are learning invaluable skills and tools, and I know from my personal involvement that this experience will change them forever.”
This year’s Desert Fast Pitch event will also feature three-time Olympic heptathlon gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the motivational keynote speaker. Widely regarded as “the world’s greatest female athlete,” Joyner-Kersee is a sports legend, setting more than 18 athletic records. She is also a successful businesswoman and respected community leader. Joyner-Kersee’s presentation is made possible by First 5 Riverside County, Children & Families Commission.
“Jackie’s achievements are incredible, and she is the perfect person to inspire our community’s business, nonprofit and thought leaders through her dynamic presentation and amazing story of hard work and determination,” Minor says.
The last time Desert Fast Pitch was held in 2019, the $20,000 winner for the Best Pitch was Connie Golds, founder of Desert Best Friend’s Closet, which provides low-income adults with training and professional attire at no cost so they can achieve employment success. Dimitri Halkidis of Boo 2 Bullying won the $15,000 Most Innovative prize and Colin Barrows, Friends of the Desert Mountains, won the $10,000 Audience Choice award.
Tickets for the Oct. 6 event are $25 each and are on sale now at desertfastpitch.com. Seating is very limited.
Gregory Charleston is a nationally published writer and consultant. He is an adjunct lecturer in the graduate program at Goucher College in Baltimore and serves on numerous foundation and public agency grant panels. He also works as a grant writing and communications consultant with NPO Centric.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Desert Fast Pitch provides funding, coaching to strengthen nonprofits