With the abundance of non-profit organisations, it can be difficult for the average would-be donor to choose one over another. Frankly, it’s even difficult at times for staff and volunteers to differentiate.
One of the first things I learned when I started in the non-profit sector harkens back to the “kinder, gentler days” of the Jimmy Carter presidency: Never differentiate your organisation by putting down others that do similar work. We need to focus on what we do well, not what others do that we may think is not as good.
I still think that’s good advice, and I’m glad that the ugliness of a political campaign hasn’t seeped into our fundraising. (Can you just imagine how painful it would be if we all were on the attack all the time?) But, that kinder approach doesn’t eliminate the need to describe what makes your organisation different to an often confused or indifferent donor society.
According to Biology Reference, differentiation “refers to the processes by which distinct cell types arise from precursor cells and become different from each other.” While I can’t explain that from a biological point of view, as a fundraiser, I see a good lesson for all of us in the field: your charity arose from a specific need and you address it in a way that you believe is different from what others are doing. (After all, if we are just doing the same thing in the same place for the same population, why do we need to be a separate organisation?) Your organisation is distinct because you serve a specific geographic area, focus on people with particular characteristics, offer a unique twist to the solution, or show that in some other way you are a unique response to a problem.
That’s differentiation. And that’s what brand-agnostic donors need to understand if they are to develop a relationship with our organisation, not just with a cause.
Masterful Marketing suggests three questions that a business should ask to begin the process of differentiating. These are easily adaptable to a nonprofit organisation, and are a great place for a fundraiser to being the process of answering, “What about our organisation is unique and will resonate with our donors?”
- What do your clients (the people you benefit) really appreciate about your service?
- Why are long-term clients (donors) still with you?
- What was one of the nicest things a client (donor) ever said about how you conduct business?
I think if you can answer those three questions, you are on the path to determining how you can show your supporters and prospects what makes you different from all the other organisations that also deal with Problem X. It’s that point of differentiation that may just break through brand apathy and help you journey toward a more committed, loyal donor base.
If you can instill a reaction in someone, you’re half-way to getting people to love what you do. Mundanity doesn’t come from products or services, it comes from the way they are talked about.
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