Who shares your nonprofit pond?
In the nonprofit world it can be uncomfortable to think about the question “Who are your competitors?” After all, nonprofits exist to make a positive impact, not to compete for a slice of market share. Most organizations refer to groups tackling similar issues as “peers” not as “competitors.” And with good reason. If the purpose of a nonprofit is to set out on a mission to solve a particular societal problem, then the more independent actors working on it the better. Right?
When it comes to communications, the answer can be pretty tricky. As much as we may want to resist, nonprofits compete with one another every day—for limited funding, resources, and attention. Getting heard in this noisy world is a challenge unto itself; even more so when there’s a bunch of other nonprofits talking about the same issue.
Instead of shouting over one another, how can your organization navigate a crowded pond?
A simple way to start is by getting to know your peer organizations a bit better – what some people refer to as a landscape assessment. It’s a research method that prompts you to break outside of your organization’s office and survey the field in which you’re situated.
Ready to try it out? Begin by making a list of a few peer organizations. If you’re not sure who they are you could ask your staff, volunteers, board, or even committed donors to help you figure it out. What organizations was a donor wavering between when she gave to your last campaign? What are the go-to organizations that people think of when they consider the issue area you are working on?
Once you know who your peers are, take some time to evaluate how these organizations communicate. Pull up their websites, subscribe to their newsletters, read their fundraising materials, and follow them on social media. Take a close look at their logos and taglines. What is the style in which they talk to their followers? Jot down a few personality traits that surface through these mediums. Is their style institutional? Grassroots? Edgy? Who do you think your peers are most focused on reaching? What are their prevailing messages? What channels are they using the most?
Draw on this research as you consider your own organization’s identity. Understanding who your peers are and how they communicate can help you gain clarity about what makes your group unique. In this way, the goal of communications becomes less about competing with those in your space, and more about carving out your organization’s own niche – so that there’s more opportunity for everyone to be heard.