How To Position a Nonprofit Startup

This is an excerpt transcription from an interview podcast episode I recorded with my guest James Heaton, President at Tronvig Group a brand strategy agency. We talk about positioning a nonprofit startup.


Table of Contents:

  1. Challenge with Non-Profit startup
  2. Internal conflicts in Non-Profits
  3. Aligning all key stakeholders
  4. Determine gap in the market
  5. Importance of branding
  6. Craft a brand positioning statement
  7. Identify your uniqueness
  8. Identify your direct competitors
  9. Develop a positioning idea
  10. Test the efficacy of your positioning strategy

1. Challenge with Non-Profit startup

James Heaton:
The problem with the number of challenges facing a nonprofit that that make the work of nonprofit and nonprofit branding actually more difficult than for profit branding. And one of those is that nonprofits tend to have to sort of chase grants so they have to be funded. There is no typically intrinsic revenue source, so they’re looking for outside sources of revenue in order to support their program


2. Internal conflicts in Non-Profits

James Heaton:
There’s a great deal of conflict within nonprofit organizations that actually have the highest level of internal conflict of any organizational type in North America What types of conflict is this? Interpersonal conflict, decision making conflict of all kinds. So you would imagine that, you know life within a non-profit would be this kind of wonderful thing where everyone’s passionate about what they do and care deeply about the cause and their capacity to have an impact out in the world when in fact that’s more typically a highly froth.

And so questions relating to brand or also therefore highly conflicted


3. Aligning all key stakeholders

Arek Dvornechuck:
Do you have like a framework that I assume that you jump in and you align all the stakeholders.

James Heaton:
Typically branding companies have this so the default methodology is to interview all the stakeholders give them all the voice and somehow and bring that together into something and then present that sort of consolidated version of that back to them. And I found that that that is extraordinary inefficient. And in looking at projects where we’ve inherited a disaster from a previous agency it sometimes ineffective.

So we’ve instead sort of staked our claim to a process where we bring all of the conflicted parties


4. Determine gap in the market

James Heaton:
We can’t even answer the question, what is this organization? We can’t even agree to the answer to that question. How are going to present a unified front out into the world? So there is an, so this sort of internal reckoning has to happen in order for the organization to acquire the discipline that will be required for them to have an effective brand.

And that’s why you see so many messy ineffective nonprofit brands because that work isn’t forced and it’s not forced through because it’s difficult and uncomfortable.

And so we end up you know, it’s kind of the opposite of what you want to do. You want to promise unicorns and rainbows, but we actually promise that it’s going to be hard. And if you’re not going to go through the hard work, you’re not going to get to the promised land at the other side because there is no easy way to do that.


5. Importance of branding

Arek Dvornechuck:
This is really interesting. So, how do you explain the importance of branding and how to build a brand and how to design for a brand? Is that is this is like you could give some kind of a

James Heaton:
I have a number of kind of mental experiments that I run them through. And So I do essentially a component of the workshop is always helping everyone to understand what a brand is and why it’s important. So that’s the first thing that you do Yes. You come into the room with those key stakeholders. You explain what are you going to do and why you are doing this and why is it important, right? It’s the second thing I do. The first thing I do is I draw out what their goals are.


6. Craft a brand positioning statement

James Heaton:
You’ve got to work out something that you can say about yourself and some presentation of how you bring value to the world. That is true. That is fundamentally not a fabrication and invention of an invention from the marketing department that doesn’t for me, that doesn’t work.

So we have to find some true expression. It doesn’t have to be. everything and it actually can’t be everything. Like you can’t your brand can’t absolutely represent all the complexity of an organization. But it needs to choose something that is fundamentally and in its essence, true.


7. Identify your uniquenes

James Heaton:
Identify something that’s true to your organization that actually make sense to your customer, right? So you can have something that’s true but meaningless outside of the organization.

So there is the there has to be the connection to to relevance or meaning beyond the walls of the institution. So that’s the intersection. The necessary intersection with the customer that also has to be worked out.

So what is true that is also meaningful that if we talk about it, it will help propel a greater sense of affinity, loyalty and positivity toward us as an organization and therefore donor support attendance you know purchase of our stock whatever the whatever the or or of our brother products.


8. Identify your direct competitors

James Heaton:
The thing about competitors is that it’s not a static world, right? Everything is in motion. So You know, unless you have absolute sort of like, you know laser vision to see through what through to the competitors plans for their own position adjustments.

So whatever they are doing to to evolve into the current competitive landscape. It’s very difficult to anticipate where they are going.

So I think the more reliable source of insight again is the customer. Unless you’re sitting in on the board room at your competitors strategic session. You don’t know where they’re headed and it’s going to be very difficult to predict.


9. Develop a positioning idea

James Heaton:
I think the more reliable source of insight again is the customer. Unless you’re sitting in on the board room at your competitors strategic session. You don’t know where they’re headed. And it’s going to be very difficult to predict. And you know that has a lot of consequences.

I think we all naturally suffer from a sort of mistaken impression that the world is more static than it actually is. So that’s hard work also the competitive analysis is no easy matter because at one level deciding who your competitors actually are. It it’s not automatically a given. You’ve got to figure that out.


10. Test the efficacy of your positioning strategy

Arek Dvornechuck:
How do you test the efficacy of of this positioning strategy?

James Heaton:
If there is more more than one way to skin a cat it depends again on who the customer is whether they are a B2B essentially or a consumer target. And I have I have a very dubious of you focus groups because people when they’re asked to explain themselves explain why they choose something that the act of being asked to explain it makes you stupid.

And so you will say things that are absolutely disconnected to your true behavior or you’re likely behavior so you can get a false positive. very easily


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