What makes you so special?

Don’t worry about being unique. Document what makes you valuable.

Fourth in a series about your case for support

Years ago business consultants, authors and marketers unleashed the idea of the “Unique Value Proposition.” Now it’s everywhere. It’s a useful notion, propelling us to define what we do and why it is valuable.

Consider this: Based in Ottawa, the Heritage Canada Foundation is the only national organization working to protect Canada’s historic places for future generations” qualifies as a useful “unique” credential. It doesn’t mean no one else preserves historic places, but no one else has a national scope. For some donors, that would be important.

However the focus on being “unique” can seem a touch contrived. “Since its inception in 1998, <name of charity> has awarded over 1,000 grants totalling $37 million. <Name of charity> is the only grant-making public charity that focuses exclusively on funding this cause (preventing child abuse). Preventing child abuse should be one of the highest priorities in society. But the statement of uniqueness is somewhat less compelling – they make grants (rather than provide programs and services) and they’ve chosen to fund one issue and no other.  

Sometimes our claim of uniqueness serves to define who our donor prospects are and to exclude almost everyone else: “The trust is the only charity that is able to offer financial support to children (0-18 yrs.) whose parents work in UK fashion, textile and other related industries.” And unless I have a connection to that industry either as worker, supplier or manufacturer, I’m exempt. (That may be good strategy by the way.)

And trying to be unique can lead to some vague distinctions: “<Name of charity> is the only charity in Canada that celebrates cancer recovery.” Seems almost certainly off base, based on the plain meaning of the language. They mean something else, I expect.

In fact, cancer-focused charities increasingly are defined by a focus on a single form of cancer, in seeking to distinguish a niche in a very crowded field. The Canadian Cancer Society looms in the background, with its array of programs and research projects.

Someone whose life has been devastated by a particular cancer and is passionate about that cause makes a judgment that another charity is needed, and devotes themselves to filling the gap. So several charities are “the only ones to fund research (or programs) solely for ___ cancer.” Which leads the Canadian Cancer Society to assert its claim to be the only ones who fund research into all forms of cancer. Which leads to dissonance for any of us with only average knowledge.

And then there are the statements of uniqueness that make the situation crystal clear. “Pack Parachute (is) the only charity that provides direct financial support to former members of the military with Military Sexual Trauma (MST) who reside in Washington State, Seattle, WA.”

I say being unique is overrated. Unless your uniqueness clearly adds value to the donor, don’t fret over it. Instead work out your IVP (Impressive Value Proposition.) Because from a case-for-support perspective, merely being unique does not drive donors. What drives donors is impact.

Answer these questions well and donors will be seriously thinking about the value you offer for their gift.

  • What difference do you make in the world? (Impact for $)
  • How do I know that you make the difference you describe? (Proof and trust factors)
  • What’s the scope of your work? (numbers, reach, portion of total need addressed)
  • Why is what you do important? (Why is it a priority, how does it contribute in a bigger picture)?
  • What difference will you make in the future? (What’s your real vision)
  • How will that happen? (What’s your do-able plan)?
  • Why should I be confident about your success? (What’s your capacity?)
  • Why choose you and not someone else?

Credible answers to those questions demonstrate value for the money. And in addition to the content, a good case demonstrates respect for the donor. Impact. Value, Respect. Sounds like the basis for a long-term relationship.

-- Larry Matthews

Next: Distilling the spirit of your organization