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Be Honest About Competition—It Might Just Make You a Better Collaborator

Posted by on June 27th, 2023
Posted in Blog, Independent Schools, Nonprofit Branding   

Paper planes that emulate rocket ships, all shooting up in one direction but at different levels.

People don’t like to talk about competition in the nonprofit world.

For many, competition suggests a dog-eat-dog fight where one valuable nonprofit edges another out of the marketplace. It’s more comfortable to view good causes as working together to accomplish shared goals. But this mindset can make nonprofit leaders overlook their competition and miss out on understanding what makes their organization stand out. It’s important to take a closer look at your competitors and recognize how your organization can differentiate itself. 

Because when your organization is clear about what it stands for and what makes it different from others, you’re not only in a better position to raise more money and attract more committed supporters but, surprisingly, you collaborate more effectively with your competition to maximize each other’s impact. 

I say surprisingly because on the surface it would seem that the organization that calls out their competition exhibits a cutthroat mentality. In reality, they have a clear understanding of what they uniquely bring to the table. Clearly differentiated organizations are in a better position to collaborate because they don’t try to do everything—they focus on what they themselves do best and then help their partners shine as well.

Consider the Opposite: The Unclear Organization

The Unclear Organization hasn’t defined its competitive landscape. As a result, they understand their general purpose but don’t know what makes them unique from the rest of their peers. They will likely continue to expand service offerings as it chases various funding opportunities and try to be everything to everybody.

Because it does a little of everything, it overreaches and steps on the toes of its peers, taking away opportunities for them to contribute and shine. They end up becoming a burden in peer collaborations. 

Also, its mission becomes diluted, weakening its ability to achieve its mission.

Begin Identifying Your Competitors

Being honest about competition, identifying your competitors, and articulating what makes you different shouldn’t be seen as an aggressive or hostile tactic. Indeed, it may be the thing that helps your organization become the best possible partner.

Here are a few questions to ask your staff, volunteers, and stakeholders to help you begin thinking productively about your competitors:

  1. Which three organizations are seen by our supporters as our biggest competitors or most similar to us?
  2. What is the big idea each one is associated with, e.g., “The organization that is known for________.”
  3. What promises are they making?
  4. If someone new got introduced to our organization, what would they see as our distinguishing factor?

After you have answered these questions with your community, synthesize what you’ve heard about each competitor into a word-of-the-street phrase, e.g., “The bold education reform nonprofit” or “The globally connected nonprofit.” Ask these same questions about your organization, e.g., “We are the________ nonprofit.”

Once you have a better understanding of the reputation your competitors have and the spaces they occupy with that reputation, you’ll be able to spot open opportunities for your organization to carve out its unique identity in the market.

Have questions or need guidance? We invite you to reach out and or leave your questions in the comment section. We’d love to collaborate with you to identify your competition and see how your organization can uniquely stand out.


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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