Learning from the competition

Let’s assume that, as good as your organization is, there are some marketing areas that could be improved. Maybe it’s your website, your advertising, your fundraising or your Facebook page.

Where do you go to find ideas for improvement? Don’t overlook your competition.

By studying similar organizations you can often uncover good ideas that you can implement immediately. Those organizations face the same challenges as you do, and a close look at how they address these challenges can be very fruitful.

In order to get the most out of this exercise, your approach needs to be a disciplined one. Start by identifying organizations that are roughly the same size, have similar missions and provide similar services.

As you look closely and analyze these organizations, make sure you include a close examination of your own organization as well.

Once you’ve identified similar organizations, locate as many of their marketing materials as you can. This includes brochures, annual reports, newsletters and, of course, their website.

The analytical approach should be comprised of three steps: description, assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and a comparison with your organization.


Here you examine the materials and attempt to determine the thinking behind it. Following are some questions to ask and some possible categories to look for:

  • What is the purpose of the communication? To cultivate donors, raise funds, service clients, motivate volunteers, provide general information, encourage feedback and two-way conversation?
  • Who are they targeting? Those already very involved in the organization’s work, new people not aware of the organization, funders, government agencies, corporations, people the organization has serviced or touched?
  • What appeals do they use? Emotional ones (a kind, caring organization), those that provide impact (number of lives improved, programming as a percent of budget, etc.), those that explain why it’s a good place to volunteer (fun, provides skills, make a difference), or those that provide a service or information to the reader?
  • What impression do the materials create? What type of imagery is used (serious and businesslike, warm and friendly, young and hip, grassroots, sophisticated), and what is the quality of the materials (polished and professional, grassroots and low-budget, etc.)?

Assessment of strengths and weaknesses

Here is where including your own organization becomes especially useful.

Right away you can identify those areas in which your organization does a great job and those in which you are not as strong as your competitors.

You can see where you stand versus others doing similar work. The areas for improvement start to become apparent.

Ideas for improvement

This unfolds naturally out of the analysis of strengths and weaknesses. It becomes clear who is doing a better job in each area.

And right away you can see if there are strategies and tactics they are using that you could also implement. This becomes your source of ideas for improvement.

If possible, include others in your organization in this exercise. Different perspectives can often unearth greater insights and greater ideas for improvement.

It is usually the case that the more rigorous the analysis, the greater the rewards in terms of uncovering new ideas. Rarely have I seen cases in which a close study of competition does not uncover a number of useful ideas for improvement.

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