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Why Your Nonprofit Needs an Enemy

Posted by on May 6th, 2015
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Storytelling   

A recent article in AdAge argues that every great story, and every great brand, has a strong, evident antagonist–someone to fight against. The author explains that Apple’s enemy was Microsoft, just as Luke fought against Darth Vader.

Great consumer marketing does this: It positions one product against another. We choose Nike over Reebok or Coke instead of Pepsi. I’d like to take this one step further as we think about the nonprofit sector. Your brand is a story, a story in which those who align with your brand are pitted against a challenging foe. But nonprofit enemies aren’t other organizations. Nonprofit enemies are problems–the solution that you alone can solve.

I can hear the counter-argument already: Sure, it’s easy to call out an antagonist if you’re a rebellious nonprofit brand like Greenpeace, but I’m a school, or an art museum, or supportive housing program. We don’t have enemies. We’re here to help.

Even if your nonprofit’s brand is as pure as apple pie, there’s an enemy to your story–there’s a challenge you aim to conquer, a problem you want to fix. As such, in the nonprofit sector, our foes are not other similar or competing organizations. Our foes are the barriers that stand in the way of our mission. Our antagonists are the thoughts and actions that would prevent us from our success.

Even the most noble of causes features an antagonist. Mother Theresa fought against indifference, and her weapon was love. The American Red Cross fights the chaos and disorder brought on by disasters through an organized, caring response.

Think of other nonprofit brands you know. Can you identify their antagonist? (We’ve given you a few to get you started.)

  • American Cancer Society –> A disease that steals those we love
  • Habitat for Humanity –> The belief that it’s difficult and complicated to create housing for those who need it
  • Denver Art Museum–> The belief that art has to be stodgy and dull
  • Nature Conservancy –>
  • Boys & Girls Club –>

Identifying your enemy as a problem is essential to your nonprofit’s ability to tell its story. Clarifying your enemy can also help you articulate what your brand position is and what makes you different. Knowing who or what you are against can also help you clearly state who and what you are for. And that helps donors, volunteers and others who want to fight the enemy join you.

Has your organization identified its foe? Share your experience with us…



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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