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Finding Your Identity

How to Show Donors What You’ve Got

How to Show Donors What You’ve Got

Your friend in Sweet Town asks you to invest in her bakery. How do you decide whether to put your money into this venture? Of course, you want to find out whether you are likely to get a good return on your investment. Do you just assume that the bakery draws lots of customers and enjoys little competition, or do you expect your friend to provide facts and figures that prove her business is worthy of your investment? To ensure that your hard-earned money will not support a half-baked scheme, you need answers to these questions:

  • What is the makeup of the population?
  • What is the demand for bakery products?
  • How has the bakery been doing to date?
  • What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is special about this bakery compared to others in the community?
  • How does the bakery create a unique impression to attract business?
  • Does the facility itself appear clean and inviting?

It may be true that your friend bakes the best cakes in town, but if she has not done her homework to support her business, both of you will likely be disappointed in the results.

Helping Them Help You

Potential donors will ask similar questions of your animal care organization. Donors do not expect to gain financially from their contributions to your nonprofit cause, but they do expect a return on their investment. Foundations and donors want to make sure that their dollars will produce the most benefits possible for animals and the community. Corporate sponsors expect to generate a positive image and new business through their support of your cause.

If a donor dangled a $1,000 check in front of you and said, “I’d like to donate to a worthy animal protection organization, but I need to make sure this money goes to the right one,” how would you respond? Could you tell the donor exactly what sets your organization apart from other nonprofits and animal-related businesses? Could you explain how your services meet specific needs of the community? Could you demonstrate your organization’s viability and the success of its programs? Successful fundraising depends on your organization’s responses to these kinds of queries.

To make sure your organization’s marketing is up to today’s fundraising challenges, take a fresh look inside and out. Examine your community demographics and demands and find out what your target constituencies think about your organization. Evaluate your organization to make sure it is doing all it can to meet local needs, and determine what makes it exceptional. Use this information to develop a niche and a positioning statement that shows donors what makes your organization special and worthy of their investment.

Defining your Niche

According to the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, a professional association devoted to improving the management and governance capacity of nonprofits, the “increasing demand for a smaller pool of resources requires today’s nonprofits to rethink how they do business, to compete where appropriate, to avoid duplicating existing comparable services, and to increase collaboration where possible.”

Your animal care organization cannot stand in the shadows if it wants to help animals, garner public backing, and earn financial support. Your community will not help you if it doesn’t know you are there and cannot understand what sets you apart from other animal-related organizations. Even if your organization is the only animal protection agency in town, you still compete with other nonprofit organizations, pet stores, veterinarians, and breed placement groups, among others, for attention and dollars. Nationally, you are up against similar organizations seeking funding from foundations and donors.

Your organization needs to identify what makes it special and show this to the public and funders. Can you spot your organization’s niche? Review these examples to see if your organization can claim any of the following:

  • “We provide the best information on helping people and animals enjoy living together in homes and throughout the community.”
  • “We offer subsidized spay/neuter and veterinary services to low-income individuals to reduce the number of sick, unwanted animals and to promote responsible pet care.”
  • “We deliver outstanding client service and quality care that attracts people to the shelter, motivates them to return, prompts them to tell others, and encourages them to donate.”

It is not always easy to boil down your organization’s many programs and projects into a concise phrase that outsiders can digest. If you are having trouble identifying your niche or selecting one to establish, try a mix of these methods:

  • Use your mission and vision statements to guide you, but do not let them limit your creativity in defining a role where you can truly serve your community and flourish financially.
  • Review or determine your community’s most pressing needs. Can your organization address these? If not, what changes can it make to tackle these challenges?
  • Work with community resources—such as your local or state association for nonprofit organizations—that provide management support to nonprofit organizations.
  • Compare your animal care organization objectively and constructively to other local organizations helping animals. Do you serve certain populations, offer unique programs, or have special strengths that would help you differentiate your organization from them?
  • Investigate how animal care organizations around the country are succeeding. Can you find examples—in Animal Sheltering magazine, at conferences, or through networking opportunities—that identify new approaches you can focus on?
  • Use research and focus groups to learn what your community, clients, and current donors think. What distinct role do they believe you play or could play in the community? How would they react to options you may be considering?

If you are having difficulty honing in on potential areas of distinction, analyze each of your programs individually. The MacMillan Matrix, developed by Ian MacMillan of the Wharton School of Business, can help you assess whether your programs fit your organization. This “strategy grid” (at helps nonprofits address these important questions:

  • Are we the best organization to provide this service?
  • Is competition good for our clients?
  • Are we spreading ourselves too thin, without the capacity to sustain ourselves?
  • Should we work cooperatively with another organization to provide services?

Staking Out Your Positioning Statement

After you have defined your niche, you are ready to communicate your distinctiveness to the public through a “positioning statement” that:

  • captures the main view you want your constituents to hold about your organization;
  • summarizes the ideal reputation that you would like for your shelter;
  • motivates your audience to take action and become involved; and
  • delivers a memorable, succinct, distinct, and focused message.

To craft your positioning statement, look at the niche you have defined. How will it benefit your community? How will people feel about that benefit? Think about what you would want one community member to say to another about your organization.

You won’t necessarily use the statement word-for-word in your communications, but it should reflect how you would like to be portrayed. For example:

  • “Anytown Shelter is the source in our community for the advice and assistance I trust to handle important decisions on living with animals.”
  • “The ABC Spay/Neuter Group reduces suffering by helping people in need access affordable veterinary services for their animals to prevent disease, birth of unwanted animals, and relinquishment.”
  • “ is a onestop resource I can count on to find answers to questions regarding pets and wildlife in my county.”

Consider developing a positioning statement for different stakeholders or programs. Just be sure that each customized statement reflects the general reputation and mission of your organization.

Here is an example of a positioning statement for an animal care organization’s capital campaign: “A state-of-the-art animal shelter with progressive programs will improve lives by raising the bar for animal care in our shelter and in our community.” Note how this statement not only includes the benefit of the new facility but also reinforces the image of the shelter as the leader in defining and delivering quality animal care in the community.

Your positioning statement is not a catchy slogan or slick ad, so don’t worry about writing perfect text. Instead, think of your positioning statement as the anchor for all your other communications. All slogans, taglines, messages, and imagery should be developed or refined to reflect and strengthen the positioning.

For example, if you are trying to present a serious, professional image, avoid cute cartoon images that detract from your ultimate goal. Review all in-shelter signs, mail, websites, brochures, ads, newsletters, and other forms of communication to ensure that you are consistently reinforcing the positioning verbally and visually.

Your organization will use this positioning statement along with your mission statement and other internal documents to develop its “case statement.” This statement bundles together in one attractive, neat document all that is important for potential donors to know about your organization: its mission, history, goals, objectives, plans, programs, budget, leadership, and staff. You will use information from your case statement in virtually all of your publications and fund-raising appeals, from newsletters to grant proposals.

When you have positioned your organization successfully, people understand and recognize who you are and what you do in the community. Assuming the positioning statement and case statement accurately reflect your organization, donations are more likely to come your way.


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