A Knight Foundation grant is a wonderful gift, but in our case at CityCircles (and for many projects), the grant only lasts for one year. Because most of that year may be spent on programming, this gives winners very little time to craft a pitch.

By “pitch” I mean: How do you explain this to your audience in 10 seconds or less (i.e., an elevator pitch)? How do you explain this to people who may want to work with you after the grant ends?

We’ve finally found an approach that seems to be working for CityCircles, so let me save you some time by presenting two options to consider.

Pitching the Audience

First, let’s start with our audience — the people we want interacting with the site via their phones. These are folks who either ride light rail, live by it, or have a business near the tracks (within five blocks, to be exact). We’ve built a website and mobile site that lets them post news, events, classifieds, promotions, resumes, and community projects. Journalists can also contribute stories to the community.

Earlier in the grant period, I would give people what I thought was a clean, concise-yet-explanatory pitch about what we are and how we work. As time went by, it became shorter and shorter, and the look in their eyes seemed more attentive. I was on the right track. At some point, I tried this pitch:

It’s called CityCircles. We’re like Craigslist for the light rail community — with a splash of journalism.

That’s it. Done. Pause two seconds to see it sink in, then add a few details to fill in the blanks.

Now, I’m not advocating for making your project sound like a cocktail with a weird twist. But I am advocating for using a comparison to something that already exists, closely relates to your project and is widely known. It helps get the point across quickly. Choose wisely.

Detractors might ask, “Why would you want to promote someone else in your pitch?”

To which I respond: If the other project already has an established community “feel” to it, then it may help your chances. In our case, Craigslist is a universally known example, and it resonates immediately. The “splash of journalism” adds context and meaning.

Investor Pitch

Now let’s look at the investor pitch. These are the folks who will keep your project going after the grant expires. We’re solely focused on making our project a success in Phoenix, but reality dictates that we plan ahead. To do this, we’re considering “sponsors” in other markets.

Instead of trying to find one large-scale investor, you might consider a “sponsorship” from someone who needs/wants some additional street cred.

One thing I am looking at is last year’s green company rankings from Newsweek. Since we’re a platform that encourages civic involvement and mass transit in the inner city, someone toward the top of the list could add us to their “green portfolio” if they support our expansion (in exchange for a promotional advertising presence on the site, like NPR’s “brought to you by…”). Conversely, those companies toward the end of the list may want to use us as a means to advance up the rankings.

And like the audience pitch, choose wisely.