Today and tomorrow, we welcome guest blogger Sean Kosofsky to explain an important marketing concept for all nonprofits to understand: Your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). What is it and how do you get one? Read on! ~Kivi

Guest Post by Sean Kosofsky

Sean Kosofsky

A unique value proposition (UVP) is an underutilized and really effective tool. But the process of developing a UVP can feel foreign and unnatural, especially for nonprofits.

A UVP is created by private-sector marketing experts to help a business fine-tune its sales strategy. The language and steps are really geared toward selling services and products. But with some imagination, we can convert the steps to developing a UVP to almost any nonprofit that seeks donations. (This is much harder for foundations).

The tips below will help your nonprofit create your UVP. It is valuable for fundraising, brand strategy, and overall organizational communications.

Step 1: Focus on Who You Want to Reach

The first thing you must do is get laser-focused on who your ideal audience is. In the private sector, this is the customer, the person in charge of paying. Ninety percent of the time, a nonprofit’s ideal audience for constructing a UVP statement is its potential donors/foundations.

Think hard about this because it determines all of the following steps. To get in the mindset of your ideal audience, create a “donor persona.” This means you must create an archetype of who you need to reach. This exercise may seem silly, but it is incredibly helpful. If your audience is “everyone,” then you will fail at this exercise. Choose the type of person most likely to be a donor.

Step 2: Identify Your “Product” That Solves a Problem

The second step is to identify your “product” (likely a program, or activity) into a generally understood category. Sometimes we use terms in nonprofits that other people don’t understand, like “harm reduction” or “transitional housing.” They may seem obvious, but they are jargon. We want to take our “products” (the neatly packaged things we do) and explain them better.

This is harder than it looks. Some nonprofits have a physical or digital product. Others have a product in the form of a course or other neatly packaged “thing.” You must be careful because getting clear about your program or project category does not include highly transactional items like clothing at Goodwill or Girl Scout Cookies. People buy these things for more nuanced reasons than pure altruism.

Too often people name things in a way that is uninspiring. If you want to invoke emotion, passion, compassion, or awe, you need to be more creative. Of course, you can simply call your program what it is, but consider getting creative. For example, do you have a job training program or an “engine of opportunity?” Do you have a homeless shelter or “community home for those in crisis?” Another example is saying you have a “Better Policy for America” program instead of a legislative affairs program.

This isn’t about spin. It’s about solving problems for people instead of listing your programs. In the marketing world, this is called focusing on benefits, not features. And nonprofits can learn from this language innovation.

Most nonprofits have a mixture of programs that can collectively fit into a category of “advocacy services,” “direct action,” or “support services.” Feel free to play around with this. How we describe our “solutions” instead of “products” matters.

Step 3: Identify the Problem You Are Solving for Others

The third step is to identify the main problems (pain point) of your target audience(s). In marketing, this is also referred to as an “opportunity,” and I don’t disagree. It is an opportunity to solve a problem. Remember, this could be the clients you serve, the people who benefit from your services, or even your donors. Ninety percent of the time, your target audience for a UVP statement will be potential donors because they are helping you provide benefits and value to society and the people you serve.

The benefits of your program are that they address pain points/problems for your beneficiaries. Your target audience donates to you so you can solve this need/pain point. Think of the problems your service population faces. Include the people you serve in this messaging exercise to improve authenticity.

As you craft a UVP, you need to constantly think about how the beneficiaries of your work (not your donors) will benefit from your work. Think about how they find value and are transformed because of your work.

As service providers and nonprofits, the way we speak about ourselves is often very different than how our stakeholders talk about us. We may think of what we provide to the world in one way, but others sometimes have a fascinating, aspirational, or deeply emotional way of seeing your work.

In order for you to see and hear how your service population values your work and benefits from it, ask them. The language they use will be very important. Sometimes gathering testimonials and language will help you see your work from the user’s experience. Ask your clients questions to uncover the true value they receive as a result of your work. Listen for pain points. Listen for benefits. Listen for value. Then turn to your UVP statement.

Developing a UVP is principally about finding what people are struggling with and explaining how you are uniquely situated to address it. Then you must explain that to donors so they make the connection and contribute.

See part two for a run down the final steps of turning these insights into a written UVP statement.

Sean Kosofsky is The Nonprofit Fixer. For 27 years, he’s helped and led nonprofit organizations and campaigns. He transforms organizations, inspires people to action, and magnifies their impact. For more help, download Sean’s free cheat sheet, Create a Nonprofit Unique Value Proposition.