Nonprofits have competitors in the marketplace, just like anyone else.
Environmental groups compete in a highly cluttered landscape of urgent causes. Independent schools compete against other independent schools, but also against public magnet schools and charter schools. American social justice organizations working internationally “compete” with local NGOs and other equally committed nonprofits. These are just a few examples.
Nonprofits usually recognize they have competitors, but they also think of them as peers. So they are sometimes late to take action when a peer is taking market share.
What can nonprofits—including government agencies and programs—do to compete better? Here are some steps you can take right away.
Step 1: Recognize Your Competition. Really drill down into who/what is competing with your organization, your cause or your message. This includes things as mundane as local soccer tournaments on the same night as your auction to more high-level issues like competing with an older organization with a stronger brand presence in the market. Or, a common problem for older organizations: competing with an out-dated version of yourself!
Step 2: Analyze Them. Most companies in the for-profit world know exactly what their competition is doing at any given time. I understand that the reason the Hershey chocolate tour is totally produced for the visitor these days is that the folks from the M&M Mars factory not far away used to take the old tour through the real factory to check on any new techniques or products. Get copies of your competitors’ outreach materials and see how they stack up against yours. What do you like or not like? What makes them stand out?
Step 3: Analyze Yourself. What’s Your UCV? “Unique Selling Proposition” is the term used in the for-profit world, so I like to use “Unique Community Value” for the nonprofit world. What value do you bring to the community like no-one else? What does your work accomplish? What would happen if you weren’t there to help?
Step 4: Differentiate Your Brand. What messages convey your brand value and UCV? What stories can you tell that set you apart? What visuals can help support the emotional sell of your brand?
Step 5: Use Metrics. How will you measure your success in your market space? How will you know if you are decreasing or increasing in market share? Email surveys, behind-the-scenes research, and focus groups can all help in this area, in addition to your usual web hits, Google Alerts and email open response metrics.
Step 6: Rinse and Repeat. You need to keep up this cycle to be sure no competitor takes a bite out of your space (or to assess how you are doing in taking a bite out of theirs!).