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Global Conference Sparks Fast Pitch Fire

Posted by Cecilia Garza
Los Angeles, CA
Social Innovation Fast Pitch
Photo Credit: © Steve Cohn 
© 2010 Steve Cohn/ Steve Cohn Photography
(310) 277-2054

When SVP Arizona Executive Director Terri Wogan-Calderon attended SVP LA’s Fast Pitch in 2009, she recognized immediately this was something she had to share with the folks back home.

“It was just the energy that was being created,” Terri says, “and the excitement surrounding the nonprofit community. It really was so mission-driven.”

She sat in a packed auditorium while ten nonprofit leaders made their pitches in quick succession. Each had received months of coaching and had honed their message to inspiring perfection – laying out why their program mattered and how the audience members could help. A few winners took home grants, but all walked away with the invaluable ability to pitch their idea to potential supporters down the road.

There was nothing like Fast Pitch in Phoenix at the time, Terri says, let alone something that exemplified the work of SVP so accurately. To her, it was a chance to re-energize SVP Arizona and get their brand out in the community in a way it had never done before.

So naturally, following her return from California, Terri hit the ground running. She went to work gathering planning materials and sharing the idea with those in her network – because of course, like all great projects, she couldn’t do it alone.

Despite her best efforts, however, Terri couldn’t fully convey the Fast Pitch experience to her Arizona partners. They weren’t there as the whole venue lit up with excitement when the winners were announced. It was one thing to tell them how it was done and explain the potential impact of the program. It was quite another to have them see it for themselves.

Fortunately, just a year later, it was announced that SVP LA would showcase their Fast Pitch event at the SVP Global Conference. A handful of Arizona partners registered at Terri’s and former Arizona board member Mary Sculley’s encouragement and they all headed out west.

The conference pulled out all the stops. Not only was it a weekend of connections, sharing and learning, but SVP LA staff and partners were just as excited as Terri to introduce the Fast Pitch program to the rest of the SVP community.

LA partners organized a workshop to share how their affiliate started the program, their process and what they had learned over the last three years. Conference participants were later invited to join in the actual competition festivities and see it in action.

The night of the Fast Pitch Finals, Terri and her fellow partners walked past the entrance to find booths lining the walls with nonprofit staff and volunteers ready to share why the work they do is important. Just beyond, the main ballroom opened up to the competition itself.

10/21/10 Los Angeles, CA USC Social Innovation Fast Pitch Photo Credit: © Steve Cohn © 2010 Steve Cohn/ Steve Cohn Photography (310) 277-2054 www.stevecohnphotography.com

“There were towering ceilings underneath which a sea of chairs and people all facing one stage,” describes SVP Arizona Partner Amy Armstrong.

The audience watched and listened as each nonprofit leader took to the stage and shared their story, like John Sullivan from BTS Communications.

Amy remembers furiously taking notes, not only on the organizations but how the event unfolded overall. She absorbed every detail with the perspective of how it could work in Arizona.

“I think when you see a successful and impactful event somewhere else,” Amy explains, “you want your city to experience and benefit from it as well. We felt like Arizona nonprofits could use a forum like this to share their stories, as well as the important mentoring and messaging that comes with it.”

Amy left that year’s conference inspired to join Mary and Terri in organizing their affiliate’s first Fast Pitch program. And putting her notetaking to good use, she went on to coordinate the day-of event for the first five years, forming a committee and defining step-by-step what the evening would look like.

The SVP Network was instrumental in other ways as well, Terri says. SVP LA was on its third Fast Pitch by the time Arizona partners attended the conference in 2010. And the LA team shared everything.

“I mean, I’m not even sure we would have known what to budget for,” Terri says. “Everything was just at our disposal, and that made such a huge difference for us.”

When SVP Arizona held its first Fast Pitch in 2011 they filled a 200-person venue. It was an intimate space, and the energy of the program flooded through the room spurring future growth and pushing them into larger facilities. This year, the competition drew 600 guests to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and the program has generated great news coverage over the years.

Most importantly, SVP Arizona’s Fast Pitch program provides coaching and support to dozens of nonprofits and they award $50,000 in prizes and grants each year. Plus, as it turns out, they weren’t the only SVP who caught the Fast Pitch bug at the 2010 conference.

Today, there are Fast Pitch programs in 17 cities that have mobilized more than $2.5 million in grants and impact investments. The competitions have awarded funding to more than 200 nonprofits and social enterprises — not to mention the hundreds of additional organizations that received mentoring and coaching.

This is why the SVP Global Conference exists – to provide a forum for exchange among our partners and staff and to spark greater social change around the world. Take it from Terri:

“I have been attending SVP conferences for ten years because this is where our exceptional thought leaders come together to share ideas, best practices and make connections to create good. The result?  The best leveraging of knowledge that can spark a new idea, direction, or solution for your community!”

We hope you will join the exchange this October 20-22, 2016! Everyone in our network has something valuable to share and something learn. And there is no better venue than the SVP Global Conference!

Cecilia Garza_small

Cecilia Garza is SVP’s staff writer. In her free time, she enjoys sailing the Puget Sound by way of her small yet comfortable Coronado 25’ and romping the beach with her 10-pound Italian Greyhound.

Learn more about Cecilia and read more of her work here.