700x500 positioning graphicAccording to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, in 2009 there were more than 1 million 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in the United States. This staggering number represents a 60% increase since 1999.

In such a large field, how does your organization position itself in order to garner the resources you need to do your important work?

Strategic positioning is a more sophisticated approach to strategic planning. It is a systematic, analytical process used to define and differentiate an organization. Positioning, by definition, is relative to core constituents (those who care most about your work), competitors, and the external environment in which you do your work.

Positioning was first popularized in 1969 by Jack Trout, who wrote Positioning, The Battle for your Mind. He argued that marketing was about gaining mind share – the place you hold in your customers’ minds. Simply put, positioning helps constituents remember who you are relative to the all the, “other guys.” How you define and then own your position is critically important in today’s competitive environment.

Determining your organization’s strategic position is a leadership-level decision and should be based on an objective analysis of your operating environment and your constituents. Here’s an example from a project we completed that shows that positioning is not just saying who you are – it is behaving in a way that demonstrates your position.

A statewide conservation organization found itself indistinguishable from several other environmental organizations. The group had a 30 year history in the state and had positioned themselves (relative to the competition) as the, “only local, homegrown” conservation organization. The implications of selecting that position were significant.

For example, their previous practice of hiring summer interns from out-of-state to do door-to-door canvassing had to change as it was out of alignment with the homegrown position. Further, the organization was being courted by a national organization to become an affiliate. Clarifying their position made it decision simple: they had a critical role to play as an independent group and they turned down the offer even though it would have been lucrative.

A strong position not only distinguishes your organization from a crowded filed, it also helps define your work, partners, and operating structure. If your organization is ready to move beyond the internally-focused goal setting process and more to your next level of success, then consider a positioning exercise to more fully relate to your constituents and distinguish yourself from the competition.

Want to learn more? Download our From Strategic Planning to Strategic Positioning booklet.