With Giving Days coming soon all over the country, you may be asking yourself – how do some nonprofits make it seem so easy to raise money? They have one marketing trick in common – they use a unique value proposition, tailored to their donors. Every marketing textbook defines unique value proposition as a simple, clear and convincing statement that tells your customers how YOU serve their needs, what THEY can expect and why YOU are better than or different from the competition. It defines how an organization stands out from the crowd. It can be explicit or implicit. A unique value proposition should be easy to identify and recall because it creates a powerful association with the organization’s brand. It should serve as the centerpiece of your marketing message, but it should also vary based on your intended customer – client, donor, volunteer or employee.
In the social sector, we have a slight twist to unique value proposition. It is defined less by actual benefits or features and more by collective experience. Maya Angelou captured the essence of this concept when she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The key here is that when donors think of your organization, they experience a positive reaction, which causes them to act. If research suggests donors need to have a positive interaction seven times BEFORE they donate, with Giving Days just around the corner, you need to start NOW to make their list.
So, how to do you create your unique value proposition? For simplicity, let’s think about it in terms of connecting to donors, but this exercise can also be used to develop a unique value proposition for your clients, volunteers or employees.
First, in order to create a concise statement that encourages donors to invest in your organization, you must know what their needs are and what they care about most. First, let’s start with their needs. What is their primary need? What do they really care about? Some donors want to be recognized and others want to be anonymous. Some donors see their money as a donation and trust that it will be used wisely. Others see it as an investment and want to see their money at work. Secondly, what do they care about most? To find out, you must research your donor. Why are they giving? Is it a personal connection? Is it tied to a need that was recently highlighted in the news? What does success look like to them – is it about the story or do they need to see the data? To best connect to your customer, you need to understand what matters to them and select the most authentic approach that works for both of you. And with different generations within your donor database, you may want to create 2-3 messages and target donors accordingly. One size no longer fits all.
Then, you need to identify what you do really well. This is often where nonprofits get into trouble – they can do many things, but not all of those tasks drive impact. To find out what you do really well, ask your clients and constituents in interviews or surveys. Typically, you are known for the things you do really well. And remember, what you do really well is often less a laundry list of activities and more your collective contribution to the community.
Next, you need to be aware of your competition. Your value proposition should make you stand out from the crowd and inform your donors what makes your organization different (without naming the competition). This requires you to know what your competitors offer, what their strengths and limitations are, and how they market themselves. To do this, conduct regular competitive analysis – pull their financials (from 990s), review their website for vision/mission statements and check out their fundraising pages, including their latest annual report. Be sure to think broadly about your competition. Remember: there is direct competition – those who provide an identical product or service. But there is also indirect competition – those who provide a substitute. Once you know your competition, you have valuable insights on your competitive advantage. You can also ask donors via surveys about this to really ensure that you know and leverage what they think is special about your organization (e.g., personal touch with clients).
Finally, you utilize the knowledge you’ve gained to solve the equation and arrive at your unique value proposition:
What your customer needs and cares about
What you do really well
What your competition does well
Your unique value proposition
For those of us who have worked in the social sector for a long time, it is easy for the language we use in our value statements to become stale and lose its meaning and impact. Sometimes the words we use are so aspirational that it becomes difficult for our customers to know exactly what to expect from our organization. Or, we sound like every other organization and use words that should only be used in a grant. But the best messages are simple and easy to understand, yet also help you rise to the top. By developing our own unique value propositions, we can simplify our messages to speak to the heart of our customers’ needs.
We would love to hear how your organization mastered its unique value proposition for donors, clients, volunteers or employees and what impact this simple marketing message has helped create, especially during Giving Days this fall.