An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Differentiate or Die!

The under 50 crowd that grew up in the US has been saturated with marketing since we were tiny. That's why we know all about brand differentiation -- you've got to show why your cola is different from your rival, or why your laundry detergent cleans better than its competitors, or why your investment counselors are nicer and will get customers a better return on their money.

One area where the principle is often forgotten is in the nonprofit world. Why should rich people or foundations give money to your environmental, human rights, or arts organization? What are you doing better, more efficiently or creatively than everyone else? What makes you special? Too many organizations occupying the same terrain, operating in the same way, fighting the same battles means costly duplication of services, inefficiency, and foolish competition for the same scarce resources.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the environmental field. There are obviously some incredible advocates doing great work to protect human health and nature. There are also far too many national groups with similar issue portfolios, indistinct goals and identities, identical strategies, and a wasteful duplication of some efforts while others are ignored. The surprising thing is that foundations continue to fund these groups without requiring greater focus, efficiency, or strategies that might actually lead to success.