There is still a noticeable disinclination in many non-profit organisations to regard marketing as a discipline more suited for the commercial sector. There are deficiencies In placing all their eggs into on-line and digital promotional strategies as the essential tools to compete effectively for members, donors and sponsors. A recent article by Australian Fran Connelley, Director at FC Marketing, gives specific advice on this subject that deserves our attention in New Zealand.

Peter Drucker once said that the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him/her and sells itself.

Regrettably most non-profit organisations fail to see their ideal market niche, which also applies in promoting their association members.  Yet, it is in this respect where their competitive advantage lies.  Once you have identified your market niche, you can begin to claim ownership of this space as your market.  To get there requires an essential element of data through feedback from members, industry intelligence and survey based research.  Identifying and claiming your market niche is also the holy grail of financial sustainability.

Voluntary common interest and public benefit entities failing to see themselves as a business and employing strategies and resources to provide a surplus will increasingly succumb to competition within their own sector and from commercial providers more attuned to the needs and wishes of their constituents or supporters as clients.  For many it requires a paradigm shift, but failing to move with the times will spell their decline and ultimate demise.

In any market with rapidly increasing levels of competition and concentration, as is evident particularly in the charity sector, you have two choices:

  1. You can either provide a relatively homogenous service mix and compete with everybody in your space based on price, quality and convenience, or
  2. You can pursue a niche that draws on your strengths and in the process build a reputation for innovation and unprecedented value within that niche.

In the new self-directed voluntary sector environment it is critical for smaller providers to be able to articulate their unique value proposition and differentiate their brand to give them ownership of their market niche. The more you can match your service offerings to meet the needs of your members or supporters, the easier it will be for you to attract new members and benefactors, and the easier it will be for them to find you.  Your marketing becomes much more targeted and cost effective. But how do you go about finding your niche?

A common mistake is to try and compete with other associations and charities on the same terms. This is not about your competition. If you want to stand out, your competitors should not serve as your benchmark. Great marketing, the kind that delivers measurable results is all about your member or donors. Your goal should be to deliver uniquely superior value that they cannot find elsewhere.

Finding your niche begins with asking these questions:

  • What are our core competencies and areas of excellence compared with our competitors?
  • Who has the greatest need for that service and the ability to pay for it?
  • What is the ideal business model to deliver that service?
  • How do we communicate our unique value proposition to best effect?
  • What are our obvious alliances and who can we partner with?
  • What do we need stop doing?
  • Where do we lack competitive advantage?

Underpinning all these considerations is research and competitor analysis. It will make it easy to spot the glaring gaps in your market that match your competencies and experience. It will also reveal what services you need to exit due to lack of any competitive advantage. This may be the hardest decision deciding what services to stop providing. We live in an age of specialisation that is not exclusive to the for-profit sector. Gone are the days of being all things to your members or beneficiaries. It is high time to be crystal clear on what you are not.

Knowing and owning your ideal market niche s essential to achieve sustainable strategic growth in the self-directed voluntary sector landscape. The more you find and acquire your market niche with matching services and evolve your business model, the more you will succeed in attracting more members, partners, collaborators and dollars.

(With acknowledgement Third Sector and Octomedia Pty Ltd)

NZARC welcomes enquiries from subscribers concerning any subject carried herein for further information and assistance in the implementation of any advice forming part of it, which can be directed to the NZARC on Tel 419-0042 during office hours or via email