Do Non-profits’ Have Competitors? | Define Your Competitive Advantage

non profit hands

Sep 15

A good friend of mine asked me the other day: “If non-profits have competitors, and if they do what they compete for?” It has come to my attention that non-profit organizations tend not to think about the word competition, viewing the term as something reserved for the for-profit world.  This is where I beg to differ; competition is seen even in the non-profit sector. Think of a non-profit from a business standpoint; positioning is a critical step in any business’ marketing strategy right?

A for-profit business must differentiate their offering and create value for their product or service. It’s about putting your stake in the ground, and familiarizing people with your brand—making your brand distinct (memorable).

Positioning to be effective must be clear, compelling and differentiated.  Differentiation is defined as what you offer or do that sets you apart from others similar to you. Differentiation is essentially the way you carry out your positioning. You position yourself to compete against rivals; all organizations compete for something whether it’s market share, customers, or product/service quality. Now how does a non-profit position themselves? “Porters five forces, has and continues to shape strategy for generations, the job starts with understanding and coping with competition.” (HBR)  A brands positioning, as Michael porter defines it, “the attempt to achieve sustainable competitive advantage by preserving what is distinct about a company. It means performing different activities from rivals, or performing similar activities in different ways.” (HBR)  Strategic positioning requires effort, finding them requires creativity and insight.

A non-profit before starting out has to establish a well-defined niche. They aren’t selling anything per say, but they are trying to sell their mission, their programs, and their services to donors, volunteers, and staff members. So the fact is that all organizations are competing for something. You’re competing for donor(s) to be attracted to your vision/mission, and for them to be a continued supporter–not a one time-supporter. You’re also competing for volunteers that will continue to fulfill the mission of your organization in the community. A non-profit has to differentiate their services from the rest of the non-profit sector—with a competitive advantage. You can’t pioneer a non-profit with a similar vision and mission that’s already established, without differentiating yourself from your direct competition. A competitive advantage will distinguish you from the competition in the minds of your customers—donor, volunteers, and staff.

Take Habitat for Humanity for example, they are one of the widely recognized and strongest brands in the world with no direct competition, yet they do have indirect competition. “Habitat for Humanity has developed its brand recognition in to brand relevance and brand action. When you hear or read the name, you think of people helping people.” (Habitat) Habitat for Humanity found a niche and that is “to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope.” A major competitive advantage that sets them apart from other non-profits is that they do not offer “hand-outs” to families. Rather, they give families the opportunities and tools they need to become self-sufficient homeowners—a huge differentiating point from other competitors.

-“A company can outperform rivals only if it can establish a difference that it can preserve.” 

My tip for all non-profits is to find your competitive advantage that sets you apart. What do you do better than anyone else? Why would anyone choose to donate to your cause? If there is direct competition in the market already, do something that they already do—but in different ways. “Zero in on an area that could be your competitive advantage, keep an eye open for areas in which you can surpass them.” (Forbes) The possibilities are endless! What sets you apart from your competition?





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