Suzanne Smith, founder of Changemaker Interactive and author of Social TrendSpotter, a must-read blog on the latest trends in the social sector, answers your most frequently asked questions.
You may have asked 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. Unique value proposition is 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 is your organization’s sweet spot. It can be explicit or implicit. 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 vary based on your intended customer – client, donor, volunteer or employee.
In today’s world, unique value proposition 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.
So, how to do you create your unique value proposition? For now, 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, what are their needs? Some donors want to be recognized and others want to be autonomous. 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? What does success look like for 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.
Next, you need to be aware of your competition. Your value proposition should make you stand out from the crowd and inform your donors of what makes your organization different. This requires you to know what your competitors offer, what their strengths and limitations are, and how they market themselves. 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.
Finally, utilize the knowledge you’ve gained to solve the equation to 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 to describe our value to those we serve and our donors 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 run the risk of sounding like every other organization. But, the best messages are simple and easy to understand, yet also help you rise to the top. They define your sweet spot. 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 you have mastered a unique value proposition for donors, clients, volunteers or employees, and what impact this simple marketing message has helped create.