Competitive Positioning for Nonprofits

How to Create a Brand Positioning Statement

It’s an important question every organization must ask themselves: what sets you apart from the competition?

Notice I said “organization.” Don’t think that just because you’re part of a nonprofit that you don’t need to put time and effort into branding! Nonprofits need to be aware of the link between a brand’s strategic value and its organizational impact.

Here are a few things that can happen if you don’t put the time and effort into creating this simple yet powerful statement:

  • You’ll probably be confused with similar organizations.
  • Your messaging will be all over the place.
  • Potential donors won’t trust you.

It’s true that big charities have the benefit of a marketing team: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a director of global brand and innovation, while UNICEF has a chief of brand-building.

Fortunately, even if it’s just you, it’s not overly difficult to come up with a positioning statement that will set you apart from your charitable competition. That is, if you’re willing to do some research and deep thinking before you start typing.

What Is Brand Positioning?

First, let’s cover the definition of brand positioning. It’s the art of matching your marketing message with the beliefs, feelings and desires of your ideal customer.

You do that effectively by making yourself “visible” as the kind of organization an individual would be attracted to.

However, this statement isn’t customer-facing like your tagline is. Think of it as an internal statement that supports ideas before you develop specific marketing messaging.

It’s also important to remember nonprofit brand positioning is a bit different than for-profit branding. Here’s why statements are different for a charity vs. for a for-profit business: you want people to donate to your cause, but you’re not focused on messaging around the lowest prices like Walmart is, or on the biggest showroom selection like Ikea is.

Competitive positioning for nonprofits is more focused on the “why”: what is your mission? Your product is the good you’re doing.

For example, UNICEF’s “why” is “to protect the rights of every child.”

UNICEF isn’t focused on undercutting their competition or saying they’re the best charity out there. (Also, some charities wish to collaborate and support others in their efforts, not necessarily compete against them.)


How to Create a Non-For-Profit Positioning Statement

Now that we’ve clarified the difference, let’s look at how to create your nonprofit positioning statement:

Define your unique selling proposition (USP).

It’s great that there are so many nonprofits supporting various causes, but this means that people are faced with an overwhelming number to choose from. You want them to pick yours.

While you’re not selling a product, you are selling a commitment—whether that’s to provide clean water to villages or save turtles from extinction. Your USP is something unique that you have to offer.

Like a small business owner does competitive research before defining his or her brand, you need to do the same for your charitable organization. Conduct some research on similar charities and find out:

  • Who’s their audience?
  • How are they positioning their brand?
  • What are they doing well?
  • What are they doing poorly?

Here’s one of the ways that charity:water sets themselves apart from other similar nonprofits. They don’t focus solely on the fact that they provide clean drinking water to underdeveloped countries. They highlight that they prove every project “with GPS coordinates and remote sensors to ensure water is always flowing.”


Don’t be afraid to be bold.

Think of creative ways to encourage potential donors to give to your cause. A website with a few lackluster paragraphs and a donate button isn’t going to cut it. Neither is a bunch of copy that has the same messaging as similar charities.

Traditionally, nonprofits have focused on safe, neutral messaging; that’s changed now. Just look at F**k Cancer, a health organization working for early detection and prevention of cancer worldwide!

While you don’t need to use expletives in your nonprofit brand positioning statement, tagline, logo or other materials, think outside “we do good” messaging and be a bit edgy.

Tell your full story.

Don’t make potential donors try and figure out why they should support your initiative. Spend some time thinking deeply about your nonprofit positioning statement as it relates to your story.

Did a family member deal with the disease you’re raising funds to eradicate? Make it personal. Did you become passionate about animal rights when you adopted a pet from a shelter? Consider that angle.

Thank Dog I Am Out
Take a look at your About Us page for inspiration. Here’s a local dog rescue’s story that is part of everything they do.

Create a narrative around your brand rather than only focusing on what you do. It’s especially important for charities to do this well, as many people are naturally suspicious of people asking for money.

Share the knowledge.

It’s one thing to come up with great nonprofit positioning, but getting everyone on board is essential. Ideally, your team should be involved in developing your brand positioning strategy.

At the very least, they need to understand why it’s there and how to use it. Everyone who’s a part of your organization is a brand ambassador, so give them the tools they need to spread the word to potential donors, family, friends, the grocery store clerk…

Once you’ve created your nonprofit positioning statement, don’t just forget it in the depths of a desk drawer or in a file folder on your PC. Refer to if often: when you’re writing website copy, developing logo designs and reviewing materials someone else has created.

By using it to influence everything you create, you’ll have a consistent message across all of your marketing collateral, leading to increased awareness, trust and donations.