The Power of Competitor Analysis for Nonprofits (and How to Get Started)
One of the keys to a business’ success is to learn what the competition is doing, then offer something different or unique. This is why competitor analysis exists: to define and communicate effectively why customers should choose a certain product or service over another.
Nonprofits can also take advantage of doing this research when developing their messaging or outreach strategies to position themselves for success. After all, it’s a very noisy world, and there are many good causes out there. Why should a donor, volunteer, potential partner decide to give their dollars, time or endorsement to your organization versus another similar nonprofit? Knowing where you stand in comparison to other organizations can positively impact your ability to compete effectively for the support you need in order to execute your mission.
Doing this analysis can also help establish parity with your competitors. Evaluating how these organizations structure their social media, success stories, impact numbers and communications allows you to identify and shore up weak spots in your own marketing, and make sure you’re not standing out for the wrong reasons. And seeing what other organizations are doing right — and doing wrong — can help you develop effective tactics and avoid the ones that fall flat.
Before we dive in, let’s first clarify what I mean by “competitor analysis” for this purpose. In this context, it’s not about doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). SWOT is great, and it can guide the organization’s overall strategy and provide insight into how and where to focus resources. This approach is related to how to communicate and market your nonprofit in the context of what others are doing.
How to Conduct a Competitor Analysis
Before starting, get clear on your goals. For example, you may choose to analyze only one aspect (like social media content), or you might take a more comprehensive look at all aspects of your competitors’ marketing and communications strategies. You’ll want to evaluate four to five organizations that are doing similar work and include your own in the analysis to make it easier to compare.
Gather information about your competitors from as many sources as possible, such as websites, blogs, press, social media accounts, annual reports and Form 990s, and any other information relevant to your research. LinkedIn and Guidestar can be particularly helpful in learning more about the size and budget of competing nonprofits.
Break down the information into any/all of the following categories:
- Basic information (e.g. size, budget, number of employees and location)
- Target audiences — Who is the organization trying to reach in its communications?
- Mission, values and vision — What’s driving them to do what they do? And what are the specific, tangible goals they’re trying to accomplish?
- Core messaging and any taglines — How well do they communicate their work?
- Unique value proposition — What does it claim to do that is different from other organizations? How is it trying to position themselves in the larger field?
- Programs and beneficiaries — Look at its core activities and programs, and whom it is helping.
- Marketing and communications content — Look at all of its public materials from websites and social media to mailings (if you can obtain them). Take note of the types of content (e.g. blogs, videos, success stories, email marketing, fundraising content, social media platforms and reports). Does it have a strong branding identity? Is its content clear and compelling?
Key Takeaways From the Analysis
Now it’s time to process all that information to get a better picture of your competitors and how you measure up. When looking at the information, ask these questions:
- How is your organization different? What are you doing better? What can you highlight in your messaging and communications that is unique and will resonate with your target audiences, so they understand why you’re a worthy investment.
- What jumped out at you looking at your competitors’ materials? Was it compelling, and how so? How do your promotional materials compare?
- Where are your competitors excelling? Do they have strong reports, and are they showing great results? Are they good storytellers? Are they getting strong engagement in their social media? What are they doing right, and what can you learn from it?
- Where are your competitors falling short? Are there any strategies that aren’t working? Could you do them differently or better?
- What “gaps” do you see? Are there missed angles or opportunities? Could you fill those gaps? How does this information inform your own point of view and messaging?
By taking the time to do this research, the insights you gain can help you clarify your own space in a competitive market. This will help position your organization to win over more of the supporters you need to propel your cause forward.
Leeann Alameda has more than 20 years of experience in directing and implementing best practices in marketing, branding, communications and advertising in both the private and nonprofit sectors. She is the founder and principal consultant of Alameda Marketing Solutions, which provides marketing strategy and branding services for nonprofits, foundations and mission-driven businesses.