Cultivating Donor Loyalty By Differentiating Your Nonprofit Brand

With the abundance of nonprofit organizations, it can be difficult for the average would-be donor to choose one over another. Frankly, it’s even difficult at times for staff and volunteers to differentiate.

One of the first things I learned when I started in the nonprofit sector harkens back to the “kinder, gentler days” of the Jimmy Carter administration: Never differentiate your organization by putting down others that do similar work. We need to focus on what we do well, not what others do that we may think is not as good.

I still think that’s good advice, and I’m glad that the ugliness of a political campaign hasn’t seeped into our fundraising. (Can you just imagine how painful it would be if we all were on the attack all the time?) But, that kinder approach doesn’t eliminate the need to describe what makes your organization different to an often confused or indifferent donor society.

According to Biology Reference, differentiation “refers to the processes by which distinct cell types arise from precursor cells and become different from each other.” While I can’t explain that from a biological point of view, as a fundraiser, I see a good lesson for all of us in the field: your organization arose from a specific need and you address it in a way that you believe is different from what others are doing. (After all, if we are just doing the same thing in the same place for the same population, why do we need to be a separate organization?) Your organization is distinct because you serve a specific geographic area, focus on people with particular characteristics, offer a unique twist to the solution, or in some other way are a unique response to a problem.

That’s differentiation. And that’s what brand-agnostic donors need to understand if they are to develop a relationship with our organization, not just with a cause.

Masterful Marketing suggests three questions that a business should ask to begin the process of differentiating. These are easily adaptable to a nonprofit organization, and are a great place for a fundraiser to being the process of answering, “What about our organization is unique and will resonate with our donors?”

  1. What do your clients (the people you benefit) really appreciate about your service?
  2. Why are long-term clients (donors) still with you?
  3. What was one of the nicest things a client (donor) ever said about how you conduct business?

I think if you can answer those three questions, you are on the path to determining how you can show your supporters and prospects what makes you different from all the other organizations that also deal with Problem X. It’s that point of differentiation that may just break through brand apathy and help you journey toward a more committed, loyal donor base.

If you can instill a reaction in someone, you’re half-way to getting people to love what you do. Mundanity doesn’t come from products or services, it comes from the way they are talked about.  ABA | The Business Brand Agency

Originally published in npENGAGE.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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