2 min Read
September 13, 2017

Sizing up the competition: What sets your nonprofit apart

Steve Jobs once said “You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.” This is as true for a nonprofit as it is for Apple, but nonprofits often don’t take time to analyze their peer landscape.

“Peer landscape” is just another way to say competition, or the group of organizations that are working in service of a similar mission, have similar programs, or are trying to reach a similar audience (of donors, of volunteers, of program participants, etc.).

I’m not suggesting that the nonprofit industry become as competitive as Apple versus Microsoft—after all, your peers are really working to create a better world, just like you. That said, I do think doing a little research into your peer landscape, specifically, how they communicate, can be eye-opening and useful for your own marketing.

Imagine you’re a social justice organization that’s constantly vying for donor dollars alongside five similar nonprofits. Get to know those organizations! Sign up for their email list, make a $5 donation, or browse their website for ten minutes. As you’re doing so, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are these organizations saying about themselves? What are the main messages they’re sending?
  • What are they communicating as their value-add? Why do they think people should take action with them?
  • If I were a donor, what would I find compelling about this?
  • What does this organization do that we don’t do? What do we do that this organization doesn’t do?

Then return to your own website and refresh your memory about how you are communicating. Ask, What do we do that’s different or unique from others in our space? And voila! You’re on your way to crafting one half of your brand strategy—your positioning statement. That’s the big idea that you want your audiences to associate with your nonprofit, and ideally, it differentiates you from others in your space.

Your positioning statement can be used in a lot of different ways—it’s really a tool that should help anyone communicating about your nonprofit do so consistently and in a way that emphasizes the big idea that sets you apart from similar organizations.

Once you’ve started to understand what makes you different from other organizations, take a step back and look at your own communications. Are you talking about what’s differentiating enough? Is it obvious on your website, in your newsletter, or in your most recent direct mail piece? It might just be that what makes you different is precisely what makes that donor open your mail or click through on your email.

Knowing your peer landscape can help your communication in other ways, too. Is your website as engaging as peers in your space? Is it easier or harder to make a donation to your organization online? Take a look around and see how others are communicating—it can be a powerful thing.