Facing History in Just 3 Minutes

Posted by Mary Hendra on November 18, 2014

How do you get somebody else to understand and feel compassion for an issue that you have dedicated your life to?

This was the task of Facing History and Ourselves' Los Angeles Director Liz Vogel as a participant in the 2014 Social Venture Partners (SVP) Los Angeles Fast Pitch. From over 100 nonprofit leaders, Liz was chosen as one of just 10 finalists, and shared her three-minute pitch at the Skirball Cultural Center last month. Below, she shares some of the things she learned in the process. Here is her pitch:


Why is it so challenging to describe Facing History and Ourselves in just three minutes?

Liz Vogel: The SVP Fast Pitch is all about social innovation. The criteria for the competition were innovation, impact, and delivery. So it wasn't just giving a description of Facing History but answering these specific questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What problem in the world do you address?
  3. How do you address this problem? How are you unique/distinctive from other solutions?
  4. What's your impact on the world? (Note: results/activity is NOT impact!)
  5. What do you need to grow?

Answering all of that in three minutes - approximately 400 words - is a challenge for any organization! This post alone is almost double that word count! For Facing History, there are several 'problems' we aim to address. We can talk about education - the need for meaningful professional development for educators, the disengagement/drop out crisis among our youth, the achievement gap. We can talk about civic engagement - the unprecedented low voter turnout in our country, the rise in registered hate groups in the last decade. I ultimately chose to call out the problem with just a few powerful words:

  • Ferguson, prejudice.
  • Columbine, bullying.
  • Auschwitz, dehumanization.

You also chose to include the story of Dr. Terrence Roberts, one of the "Little Rock Nine" who integrated Little Rock's Central High School and a classmate, Robin, who shared her textbook in class when others were harassing him, taking his books, or simply standing by while it happened. What was it about that story that made it an appealing one to share? What other stories did you consider sharing?

Liz: For several of the competing organizations, describing what they do was fairly simple to grasp - feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless. In my early drafts, I was told that even though I said 'we train teachers' or 'we provide classroom resources' - it wasn't clear. I needed an example that people could visualize.

There are so many stories and I did cycle through several of them! But the story of Robin and Terrence has always struck me personally, and I think that made it powerful in the pitch. A simple, courageous act amidst such fear and terror. It instantly transports you to that classroom and you can feel it. There are also so many layers to this story that it stays with you - what it means for young people to see examples of young people (not adults) taking small steps that really matter. What it means that *this* is a stand out memory for Dr. Roberts that you'd never hear about otherwise. (Click here to see a video of Dr. Roberts.)

Did you gain any insight into Facing History in the process of developing your Fast Pitch?

Liz at Fast PitchLiz: The insight I gained is that Facing History must be experienced to be understood. Any of us can describe it a million different ways, and it might capture a person's attention as an interesting program. But when that person can get even just a tiny glimpse of the emotional, ethical and intellectual convergence that defines our work, it sparks a real connection.

For myself, I learned that the most important thing is to always tap into my passion for this work when I'm speaking or sharing with people. At first I searched for the "perfect words" and thought I needed to put on a certain kind of public leader persona. In the end, I realized that people may not even remember the stats or numbers I shared, but my goal was for them to remember the urgency of our work, the passion we bring to our work with students and teachers, and our deep belief that education is how we can and must change the world.

And to our readers: What would YOU focus on if sharing Facing History and Ourselves in just three minutes?

If Liz's pitch got you energized to support Facing History and Ourselves, consider attending our Benefit Dinner on Tuesday, February 24th, 6-9 PM at the Beverly Wilshire. It's our one fundraising event of the year and we'd love to have you with us! For more information contact Gretchen_Blake@facing.org.

Topics: Community Event

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