A Cocky Dowager Countess and a Bold 9-year-old

May 04, 2022

Did you know that what you do is radically different from your competition? It’s true. Yet, far too often, we find ourselves giving our energy to what our competitors are doing when we should be giving that energy to our donors instead.

This story goes back decades, but it shows that I was born with left brain methods and right brain moxie and it’s just grown as I’ve gotten older. So, I was probably 9-years-old when my mom took me and my siblings to a t-shirt shop. It was one of those old-school mall stores where there were hundreds of pictures to choose from hanging on the walls and they would do the iron-on transfer to any shirt you picked out while you waited. It was also quite common for them to put an iron-on transfer of your name on the shirt as well.

I don’t have mine t-shirt anymore, maybe it disappeared in my Marie Kondo phase of life, but this is a picture of my sister’s shirt—a light red ringer with a cute little skunk as her picture of choice. She had her name, Robyn, transferred on the back…apparently that was the trend.

But I didn’t want to do it how everyone else did. I chose a light blue ringer but I asked for the picture to be transferred on the back and my name to be on the front. The owner of the stop politely told me that wasn’t how it was done. He said it was pictures on the front and names on the back.

I politely explained to him that I preferred if people knew my name as I was approaching them, not when I was leaving them. My memory isn’t perfect, so I don’t recall the look I’m sure my mom gave the man (that ‘don’t waste your time arguing with her, she has a mind of her own’ look) or if he just went with the 'customer is always right' solution but I got the t-shirt that I wanted and I loved it. It was unique, it was one-of-a-kind, and it was 100% me! That’s not to say that my sister’s shirt was wrong or that mine was right. I just knew, even at an early age, that I was meant to stand out.

Today’s blog is all about just that—your value proposition.

Left Brain Marketing Methods: Although we don’t always do it, we really need to spend energy like we spend money or time. We only have so much and when we overdo it, especially in the nonprofit world, it leads to burnout. We’re seeing that across the board now with The Great Resignation. So, redirecting your energies to the tasks the produce the best results are not only in your best interest, but in the best interest of those you serve. That’s why identifying your value proposition through left brain marketing methods will make it even easier to customize the messages you deliver to your donor segments. Let’s talk about that!

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: You’re not the best kept secret. Sure, maybe more of the right people need to know about you, your org, and what you do, but not everyone. The story you choose to tell needs to get the attention of your specific donors segments. Unbelievably, one way to do that is by doing less better. Yes, you can work less and raise more by integrating your value proposition into your donor communications. Defining exactly how you’re different than others is critical. Get creative and tell those stories—not just any story that any nonprofit could tell any donor. Crafting generic messages to all-purpose donors is not an effective way to spend your energy. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, let’s put a lightsaber-like focus on your Value Proposition this week in honor of Star Wars Day!

Left Brain Marketing Methods: Have y’all ever seen that witty meme where Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham innocently asks, “What is a weekend?”

I guess to a Dowager Countess, every day is a weekend, right? It’s also probably safe to assume that few Dowager Countesses work in the nonprofit field. That’s not a thing. When Friday hits, we know it. It’s not that we don’t love what we do—we do. It’s more like we are doing the work of many with tight budgets, partial grants, small staffs, and limited energy. So, yes, we know what weekends are—we need them to refresh, refuel, and rejuvenate.

That’s also why the not-to-do list is as important as the to-do list. And the first thing on your not-to-do list should be to stop giving energy to your competitors and start giving that energy to your donors instead. You know who they are—that sweet spot of generous people who have an affinity for what you do and the capacity to do something about it. They deserve to know exactly what it is that you do that makes you stand out from the crowd.

While nonprofits as a whole do several of the same things that you’d find at the intersection of a Venn Diagram, that doesn’t define your value proposition to your donors. For example, people often wonder how Community Foundations are different from United Ways. While the Venn Diagram intersection shows the similarities, we are also markedly different. It’s your job to tell your donors how you're different. The same goes for a public college competing with private college or the local nonprofit competing with a national organization who serves the same cause. None are bad; but all are different and so are their value propositions.

Essentially, your value proposition outlines how the benefit of your nonprofit’s services will be uniquely delivered, experienced, or offered to help your clients. It summarizes why a donor should donate and how that donation will be utilized in a way that is distinct from other nonprofits.

Do you know what your value proposition is? Do you leverage it? If so, terrific! You’re ahead of the curve. But it would still be a good practice to re-evaluate your value proposition annually to make sure you’re not straying back into the hold habits of giving your energy to what your competitors are doing versus giving your energy to what makes you special to your donors and clients.

I recommend a 1-hour brainstorming session to determine how your value proposition can give you traction. This exercise will help you better determine how to communicate well with your Minimum Viable Audience.

The overarching question of your brainstorming session is this:  What do we do that makes us stand out from the crowd and serve our donors and clients better than anyone else?

Additionally, here are a handful of other questions to help you dig a little deeper:

  • What is unique about us, what we offer, and how we deliver it to get results?
  • What do we do, that no one else does, that leads to success?
  • How does the depth of our experience make a difference in what we do and how we do it?
  • Related to experience, how is the history of our organization rare and what value does that show to our donors and clients?
  • What specific population do we serve that makes us special?
  • How is our approach exceptional? Is it our philosophy, our geography, or our personal biography?
  • Do we have an approach that is extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, and worthy of telling our donors because it’s a game-changer for those we serve?

The answers to these questions will determine your value proposition and that, my friend, will give you a competitive advantage. And once you know what your value proposition is, you’ll be able to determine the exact message your donors need to hear. It’s like that philanthropic matchmaking that I’ve talked about before. Knowing what you do best and marketing it to those that appreciate that nuance is a match made in Heaven.

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: Sure, there are a million stories to tell your donors, if you do your homework, write them down, and keep them in a Story Library for safekeeping. But the best stories aren’t the ones that could be told by any ‘ole nonprofit. The best stories are the ones that differentiate you, separate you from the pack, and uniquely tell your donors how the work you do is worthy of their investment in a way that no other organization is. It puts the spotlight on your value proposition!

I grabbed this example from 2019 when we were doing a Science of Happiness theme. I was at CVS one afternoon picking up something for the office and saw a copy of Time Magazine at the check-out counter. The whole magazine was a study on the Science of Happiness. So, I had to grab it. Of course, it should be no surprise to any of us that generosity and happiness are inter-connected. After learning that, we couldn’t help but tell our donors more about how the act of generosity literally makes them happier—there’s scientific proof! But what’s important with this piece is how we really drilled down on the value proposition of endowment. Because raising endowed dollars is our specialty, and raising unrestricted endowed dollars is a priority, we sent this direct mail piece to a segment of 50 donors who were new to the Foundation by giving to us for the first time the previous year. Check out the highlights I made in red to emphasis our value propositions.

  1. “We offer customized solutions that are deeply meaningful to the donor and our community.” This shows them that we can work with the donor on a cause that they genuinely care about, we’re not just a one cause organization.

  2. These chartable solutions combine two basic elements—generosity (AW2) and grantmaking (oMG). This tells the donor that their generosity is combined with grantmaking, so it’s not just transactional, it’s transformational.

  3. You see the original Generosity (AW2) given to us, is never spent instead, it’s endowed forever. This explains how endowment works and is different than a gift to another nonprofit might be. 

  4. This allows us to take those endowed gifts and permanently invest them to grow over time. And, a portion of that very growth is how we are able to Make Grants (oMG) annually, forever. This explains how we use endowed dollars to make grants forever!

  5. The Donor Marketplace gives donors the option of a tax-deductible donation to one of over 400 charitable funds. This shows the donor that they have choices when they give through us.

  6. This allows us to take those endowed gifts and permanently invest them to grow over time. And, a portion of that very growth is how we are able to Make Grants (oMG) annually, forever. This explains how we used endowed dollars to make grants forever!

  7. Basically, the Community Foundation practices, and witnesses, an increase in happiness everyday as we help donors make a difference for causes and people they love, at the local, Grant County level. This highlights how we serve only one county, so that target population is important to note to our donors. 

  8. We’ve been delivering happiness since 1984 by providing charity enthusiasts, like you, a variety of opportunities to make their philanthropic giving as personal, purposeful, and impactful as possible. With over 400 funds, donors know that they have options to support causes that are near and dear to them.

Share what makes you special—it’s your value proposition and it’s extremely important; especially when communicated to your Minimal Viable Audience. The work you do is needed and vital to those you serve. Make sure your donors know this. Because at the end of the day, nonprofits have a lot in common. But why be like them when you were born to stand out?

It's time to be clear, confident, and confront the question of your Value Proposition with the cockiness of a Dowager Countess or the boldness of a 9-year-old with her name on the front of her t-shirt--like a boss.

And, as always, may the force be with you!

All My best,

[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc.

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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