6 clever ways to differentiate your nonprofit – and why it matters

6 clever ways to differentiate your nonprofit – and why it matters

Goodwill. Salvation Army. Volunteers of America. All nonprofits with similar yet unique missions, competing for donation dollars and audience. So how do they stand out from each other?

Many nonprofits struggle with differentiation, as goals can seem to overlap. Often, awareness of the nonprofit will prompt increased support from donors and fans. How do you improve that awareness in a saturated market? Better branding.

But better branding means more than just a killer logo on some T-shirts.

Build your organization’s brand through its messaging, positioning, and outreach in the community.

Here are a few ways to boost that perception:

1. Be accessible.

Donors and supporters want to feel like they are part of something, and it’s easier to build a connection if you give them an avenue to do so.

On your website, be sure to include a “Get Involved” page. Offer ways interested groups and individuals can volunteer and take part in the action. On the page, be sure to showcase everyone—not just the big-dollar donors. Posting photos of Fortune 500 company employees in your volunteer T-shirts might turn away those who feel like they have less to give.

2. Work with leaders.

Although it may be easier said than done, attracting big names to your executive team and board can do a lot for building your brand.

Leadership with track records of success and experience can bring instant credibility to your nonprofit.

Working with leaders also means securing grants and donations from well-known funders and companies. You can display their logos on your website to further show your partnership with well-known orgs that think your mission is worth the money.

3. Show emotion.

Showing emotion doesn’t just mean “sad.” Show success stories of people you have helped—the student that became the first in his family to go to college, the special-needs pet who found a home, or the mom who was able to get back on her feet and find permanent housing for her and her kids. Donors can then see and feel how they can be a part of this work.

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When others can relate to your mission and the people you serve, they are more likely to offer support. Think about organizations helping those affected by a natural disaster. Donors are often compelled when they think “something like that” could happen to them.

4. Personalize your message.

Much like an emotional connection, personalizing lets the donor develop a stronger allegiance to and affinity for the organization.

Offer ways to support the nonprofit through specific channels. Instead of the donation going to the general fund, showcase a specific student or project that the donor is supporting, as in:

“Give $25 today to help Sarah get the after-school tutoring she needs.”

Personalizing is best accomplished when the nonprofit can sell the story. This is done through all avenues of communication—the website, the direct mail, and even the annual report. It humanizes the org and promotes support.

5. Innovate.

What better way to stand out than by doing something new and exciting? Supporters will take note of your out-of-the-box thinking, making your brand more recognizable in their minds.

  • Consider using cutting-edge technology that better helps you collect data.
  • Do research to support your mission, and publish your findings.
  • Create engaging content (videos, infographics, webinars) and offer it to your audience.

6. Be a leader.

Once you have a better idea of your mission, show how deeply invested and committed to it you are. Position your nonprofit as an authority in the space.

This can be done through consistent communication via social media, blogging, and newsletters to show that you are subject-matter experts in your mission.


Better branding can lead to better fundraising and increased loyalty, giving your organization the opportunity to grow, ramp up its support, and successfully deliver on its mission.

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Lindsey Thieken

Lindsey is a passionate community-builder and storyteller. When she's not writing, she's traveling, reading as much as possible, and practicing her left hook with her new obsession—boxing.

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