Thu, November 03 2011

The cure for the nonprofit crisis?  Focus.

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Read more by this author

Filed under:   Nonprofit leadership •

That’s the message of a Harvard Business Review post by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi.  They note that our sector has seen billions less in donations in recent years, though not all charities have been affected equally.  Some have suffered, while some have thrived.  A big difference?  According to Leinwand and Mainardi, it’s the degree of focus of the organizational strategy and leadership.  Watered-down focus means watered-down results - and fundraising.

Three quarters of nonprofits they studied said they had too many conflicting priorities, and only 29% said the distinctive things their could do better than anyone else (their “core capabilities”) actually supported their strategy.  Almost 80% said their organization’s efforts to grow had led to waste.  Which both led to - and resulted from - chasing off-mission grants out of desperation for resources.

This so-called crisis of coherence only heightens competition for resources, since it creates more and more overlap among organizations—and makes them harder for donors to distinguish.

So what’s an organization to do?  The authors point to tightly focused organizations like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Mayo Foundation, which focus on what they do best to drive a clear strategy and distinct “way to play” - their unique way of achieving their mission.

I agree.

Here are my four tips for focusing on how you are different - which is a critical step to coherence - and fundraising success.

1. Strength: What is your strong suit, or what strength can you create? Are you especially good at building relationships with your constituents? Do you have very good services or an innovative approach to tackling your issue?

2. Difference: What makes you unique? Do you have the most stellar reputation in your field? Are you the biggest, or the first to offer a service? Are your services more accessible than those of your competitors? Is your overhead lower than that of other groups?

3. Simplicity: Is your strength or difference a simple, easily grasped concept? At best, you can stand for just one attribute in each audience’s mind, so make that quality clear and memorable.

4. Value to audience: Last, check yourself. Is the quality you’ve chosen something that your audiences actually care about? The competitive advantage you cite is not an advantage if it’s irrelevant or uninteresting to the people you want to reach.

  • Comments