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Marlin Communications - digital strategy

What makes a good value proposition for a charity?

– by Dan Geaves, Strategy Director of Marlin Communications

As humans, we grow up in a complex social world. Through life experience, family, religion, schooling, peers, and even social media, we acquire the schemata, or world view, that we see our daily lives through. 

In other words, we wear a pair of “reality goggles.” 

Our perceptions and expectations of what is real, and normal, pre-interprets the world around us and gives us the ability to move through life without having to analyze and critically dissect every interaction and experience we have.

Australians judge charities, all… the… time.

The Australian RepTrak Pulse study consistently reveals the way they evaluate the “citizenship” of an organisation. Australians judge the character of an organisation by evaluating whether the organisation achieves a positive contribution to society.

This is why brands such as Careflight and Royal Flying Doctors Service top the tables of most trusted charity brands. And when it comes to fundraising, they benefit from the simple ways that a prospect can discern how they differ from others.

In 2019 Adrian Sargeant warned the Australian sector that “being caring is not distinctive.” His research and advice with Elaine Jay was already captured in their 2004 book “Fundraising Management: Analysis, Planning and Practice.” Longitudinal analysis demonstrated to them that charities who consistently convey and reinforce what makes them distinctive.

But their book did not identify the strategic tool that fundraisers could be developing and using to steer that consistency.

A value proposition tells prospective supporters why they should support you rather than anyone else, and it makes the benefits of your obvious fundraising offer from the outset.

Over the 20 years I have been working for and alongside charities, I’ve seen many fundraisers dissuade one another from identifying themselves as marketers. Yet… this marketing technique is unquestionably one that fundraisers benefit from.  

  • A good brand value proposition is what attracts the focused attention of funders, partners and major donors… as they seek the organisations aligned to their own personal missions.
  • A good brand value proposition is what ensures that some charities are selected by face to face agencies and others are not, because their cause or brand is perceived as being “just too hard to sell.” 
  • And as individual supporters express their preferences for giving online, a good value proposition is what supports a charity to find lower cost per lead campaigns than others. 

I have been blessed with many great opportunities in my career as a fundraiser, one of which was helping our client partners at The Smith Family to develop their (existing) brand value proposition in 2014.

The scale of The Smith Family’s ambition drew out the “imposter syndrome” in me, and that compelled me to look deeply into the research of what creates a strong brand value proposition.  I was fortunate to be able to participate in a course of study with scientists from Stanford University, the same institution that Jim Collin and his researchers had worked on during the development of the book “Good to Great.” It helped me develop a framework for collaboration, and to design a methodical process for identifying the ingredients needed. 

A good brand value proposition (like all propositions) identifies the relevant pairing of a problem and solution and then expresses that in a fashion that will drive distinctiveness from other charities.

Developing a brand value proposition is hard work, and it takes clear thinking. To be certain you have a good value proposition you need to consider the following;

  • Is it simple to understand?
  • Do we express our purpose and reveal the unmet need that exists?
  • Do we reveal how impact can be observed and judged?
  • Does it stand out and reveal a passionate, even infectious zeal?

In my experience what makes the most compelling value propositions is the commitment to take heed of Adrian Sargeant’s warning, and be distinctive. 

Here are some examples of where the distinctiveness can come from:

  • Boldly promising to create an ‘end game’… the resolution of a social problem and the conclusion of any unmet need;
  • Defining a leaderly-like vision that expresses the unwavering intent to deliver impact again and again so that the best possible world can be created;
  • Reflecting the competencies of your service delivery to reveal the unique characteristics of your solution to a problem that a supporter can admire;
  • Using your unique perspective (from lived experience or research) on your cause to frame how you see the problem to be solved. 

Throughout history, successful for-purpose organisations have created advocates – people who can describe your value to the community. The way to do this is to create something of value to a community, communicate what that value is, and make sure that the value is captured and understood. That too, is your brand value proposition.

By focusing on developing yours, you will unlock hidden potential for you to create attraction.

I believe working on a brand value proposition for a charity is a huge responsibility. Since working with The Smith Family, the Marlin team and I have been trusted by a further 19 charities in Australia and New Zealand to develop theirs. It is a core focus for how I deliver work to our clients, alongside being a Director of the agency.  I was recently asked by the CEO of a charity whether I would be personally involved… to which I can assuredly say… “most definitely!”

If you would like to read some of our case studies and client testimonials, then please email me for a copy. If you would like to find out how my team and I can help you create a good value proposition for your charity please get in touch.