Envy, emulation, (over)eagerness may be the deadly sins of the nonprofit world. Organizations seem to be constantly comparing themselves to each other. Whether they are comparing fundraising capacity, programming, outreach, or marketing, many organizations seem to want to know, “How can I be more like the other guy, faster?!”

Now, for my motherly advice. Don’t try to be like the other guy, focus on what your unique value proposition is and do everything in your organization’s power to shine a spotlight on that. There will always be lessons that can be learned from the other guy, but make sure those things are best practices. Areas of overlap and indistinguishability are not where you are going to see the biggest impact or get the greatest recognition.

One of the quickest ways to understand your unique value proposition is to interview your constituents, your partners, your donors, your employees, and your board. During this process, your job is to understand what attracted them to your organization in the first place, and what keeps them around. This is also a time to ask the tough questions, what are they frustrated about, and what do they feel like is a waste of time and effort. Finally, it’s important to understand what other organizations they admire and are attracted to and why. These questions should help you to focus in on what your organization needs to put more effort towards and those that can be phased out. Ideally, you would undergo this kind of introspective research yearly, but at a minumum you should use this exercise every other year before you waste valuable resources on redundant or ineffective efforts.

Now go forth, ask for opinions, and don’t shy away from the answers, because you are you, and you are special!

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