How to Stand Out with a Powerful Positioning Statement, Part I

Part 1 of the 3-part series: Laying the Foundation for A Rock-Solid Marketing Program

Your marketing and fundraising efforts are only as strong as your ability to communicate with your key audiences.

Whether your speaking to donors, partners, foundations, employees, or clients, it’s crucial that you’re articulating your messages clearly, concisely, and in the most compelling manner possible. It’s also critical that your organization is speaking with a unified voice.

All the messages you communicate – whether they’re about your organization, the impact you’re making on the communities you serve, or how amazing your supporters and partners are – should map back to one essential statement about your organization, and that’s your positioning statement.

Your positioning statement is the foundation from which all other messages flow, including your core organizational messages and key messages for specific target audiences. (I’ll show you how to develop these in parts II and III of this series.)

Your positioning statement is the sun around which all your messaging and marketing efforts orbit. It’s basically the center of your marketing universe.


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Even your branding is impacted by your positioning statement. Positioning is the concrete, rational strategy from which the emotional expression of your branding is derived.

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“But we already have a mission statement,” you’re thinking. “Why do we need another statement?”

Let me tell you why. Because your mission statement is only half your story.

At best, your mission states the obvious: what you do, whom you do it for, and hopefully the value you bring. But more often than not, mission statements reflect how you want to be perceived by your audiences by expressing who you want your organization to be and what you want it to do. Kind of like a rhinoceros that insists it’s a unicorn.

Your positioning is a concise statement declaring who you are, what you do, whom you do it for and how you’re doing it differently or better than the competition. It clearly defines why a person or institution should give to your organization opposed to one of the 37 other organizations out there doing similar work.

You’ve probably heard of an elevator statement before. A positioning statement is kind of like that. You’re in the elevator with a decision maker of a major foundation and she’s just asked you about your organization. You’ve got about 30 seconds to tell her in a way that will inspire her to remember you the next time she’s making funding decisions.

You need to be distinctive. You need to be memorable. You need to set yourself apart.

You need a point of differentiation (POD) – a declaration of what sets you apart from your competition. (I know. You don’t like to think of similar organizations as competitors, after all, you’re all doing important work in your field. But make no mistake about it, when it comes to funding and mindshare, you definitely have competition.)

Your positioning statement needs to be the cornerstone of all your communications. Here’s why:

  • To help you establish your position in your space.
  • To ensure everyone on your team (staff, board members, volunteers, etc.) can clearly articulate who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and what makes you better or different than the competition.
  • To serve as a reference point for branding activities.
  • To set the direction for your marketing strategy.
  • To serve as a launch pad for your marketing and fundraising initiatives, catapulting you toward your mission and vision.

The Anatomy of a Positioning Statement

So, what does a positioning statement look like? In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore offers the following template for a positioning statement:

For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy.) Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation.)

Here’s how I translate that into nonprofit:

For (people or cause you serve) who (statement of need), (Organization) is a (type of organization) providing (service) that (benefit of service.) Unlike other organizations addressing this issue, we (point of differentiation.)

Want an example? Here’s a made up one:

For penguins with broken wings, Saving Penguins is an aid organization offering comprehensive health services that enable penguins to heal so they can swim and eat fish againUnlike Penguins Without Borders, we provide medical aid along with physical therapy and trauma counseling to injured penguins.

10 Step Guide to Developing your Positioning Statement

Now that you know why you need one and what it looks like, it’s time to write (or rewrite) your own positioning statement.

Here are the 10 questions you need to answer in order to craft a powerful positioning statement.

  1. Who are your primary target audiences? (Donors, foundations, government officials, partners, employees? Try to narrow it down to your top 3 or 4 audiences.)
  2. What matters most to these target audiences? (Think of emotional factors – i.e. keeping up appearances, saving the world, feeling like part of the community, feeling good about themselves, etc. – as well as tangible motivators – i.e. tax deductions, good governance, monitoring and evaluation systems, reporting, free t-shirts?)
  3. Who (or what cause) are you serving? Orphans and vulnerable children in Africa, at-risk inner-city youth, endangered animals?
  4. What do they need most? Specific health needs, education, meals, shelter?
  5. What kind of organization are you? Nonprofit, faith-based organization, community initiative, a movement?
  6. What is the main service you provide to your client/cause?
  7. What is the benefit of the service? What do the services you offer enable your clients to do, experience or achieve? Look at the big picture here.
  8. What other organizations offer similar services?
  9. What sets your organization apart from the others? What makes you uniquely suited to do what you do? What makes you better?
  10. Why should someone invest in your organization instead of another?

Still with me? Make my day by giving this article a share on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Once you’ve answered each of these questions (with the help of team members representing different departments and programs) you’re good to go. Write away. Shoot me what you’ve come us with and I’ll evaluate it for free.

Do you have a system for developing a positioning statement? I’d love to hear about it.

Need help crafting your positioning statement, core messages and key messages for target audiences? We’ve got a one-day workshop for that. For more details, ping us here.


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