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How Nonprofit Organizations Compete

By Kelly Robbins

Nonprofit groups compete with each other just like any other business. If you're thinking about going into the nonprofit world, here's a crash course on how these businesses position themselves for success.

According to the book Successful Marketing Strategies for Nonprofit Organization by Barry McLeish, nonprofit groups compete with each other in roughly four areas: quality of programs or technology, positioning of programs or products, quality of support services and price. Let's take a look at each of these areas and compare them with regard to how a for-profit company competes

Quality of programs or technology: Many times in a for-profit company, better technology is what puts you ahead of others. R&D departments work continuously to improve existing products and to be the first to roll out new products and services. While your nonprofit probably doesn't have an R&D department, you can - and should - always be evaluating products/programs and creating new ones. Keep improving on what you've got, even if you're "the best." Don't take the status quo as acceptable, because it won't be tomorrow.

Positioning of programs or products: There are many ways to demonstrate high quality for a business, regardless of its profit status. For example, if you have a strong, large competitor you can position yourself as being smaller. You can use being smaller to promote the message that you have more one-on-one contact with constituents. Being smaller could also demonstrate your ability to do high-quality work because you pay attention to the smaller details in your organization. Have you been in business longer than your competitor? Is your staff more credentialed or more experienced? Use these facts to showcase your experience.

Quality of support services: Simple things like quickly turning invoices or receipts around, immediately responding to phone calls and correspondence and accurately processing paperwork - all of which can be accomplished by putting systems in place - speak volumes about how an organization is run and managed. These are things people are more likely to experience rather than things you tout. And actual customer experience is key to how a reputation of high quality is built and maintained.

Price: An interesting point I took from McLeish is how accustomed American consumers are to price increases. When a nonprofit organization says that it has saved money or kept costs down, people hear it because it is so opposite to what they are used to hearing. You can use this "cost savings" technique in solicitations to donors, as a news story, to recruit volunteers - use your imagination.

Like in any business, the key to uncovering your competitive advantage as a nonprofit is to evaluate your competition's strengths and weaknesses and to position yourself accordingly. How does your organization compete? What do you do better than your competitors? Do you know what they do better than you?

Author of Healthcare Copywriting Secrets Revealed, Kelly Robbins is an award winning copywriter and marketing coach/consultant. She also publishes The Healthcare Marketing Connection, a free e-zine on healthcare marketing tips. Contact Kelly to receive her free report, "5 critical things you must know when writing for the healthcare industry"

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