Nonprofit Brand Messaging 101: Nonprofit Positioning Statements

6 min read

As a nonprofit, you can likely think of several organizations in your space that are working toward the same mission you are, and that’s not a bad thing. The nonprofit sector thrives when similar organizations emphasize collaboration over competition, and likeminded nonprofits can often achieve more when they work together.

But this emphasis on collaboration over competition can make positioning difficult. How can you own a clear position in the minds of your stakeholders when there are several other organizations that have a great deal in common with your own, many of which you might partner with or support?

It begins with understanding how nonprofit positioning differs from for-profit positioning.

What is a nonprofit positioning statement?

In the for-profit world, a positioning statement typically articulates a company’s competitive advantage. For-profit positioning statements are often phrased as follows:




While these competitive positioning statements can sometimes make sense for nonprofits (for example, in a membership organization that competes with other, similar organizations for members), they’re often disadvantageous for organizations that wish to collaborate with and support others in their ecosystem.

That’s why we suggest most nonprofits write their positioning statements with a focus on their “why” rather than a focus on their competitive differentiation. We define a  nonprofit positioning statement as an internal statement that expresses the “big idea” you want to communicate to your stakeholders about what you do and why you do it. While most nonprofits aim to focus their positioning on their missions, foundations tend to focus them on their values because their missions are often broad and far-reaching.

We suggest most #nonprofits write their positioning statements with a focus on their “why” rather than a focus on their competitive differentiation. Click To Tweet

It’s important to note that a nonprofit positioning statement is internal. It’s meant to codify your big idea before you develop specific messaging to communicate to your stakeholders. While you may come up with some language you want to use externally while developing your positioning statement, that’s not the goal. Think of it like building a house: Your positioning statement is the foundation, while your external messages are what people actually see — the paint color, windows, doors and roof. Keeping your positioning statement internal also gives you the freedom to be a bit more boastful and truly establish what makes your organization unique.

Why nonprofit positioning statements matter

Without a nonprofit positioning statement, your organization is susceptible to a range of communications problems. Your inconsistent communications will be far more likely to confuse your stakeholders. You’ll be mistaken for other organizations doing similar work more often. And, a single negative story in the media could suddenly become the primary association people have with you because you’ve done little to build up a consistent narrative of positive messages.

Without a positioning statement, your #nonprofit is susceptible to a range of #communications problems Click To Tweet

A nonprofit positioning statement can protect your organization from problems like these, or at least help you bounce back from communication problems and crises more quickly.

How to create a nonprofit positioning statement

Before you can create a nonprofit positioning statement, conduct research to uncover how your stakeholders see your organization and how they view the “why” behind the work you do. Take a look at what your stakeholders are saying they need from an organization like yours and what your organization’s specific strengths are. You should also conduct research on how other similar organizations explain what they do. You need to identify why your organization’s existence is necessary to meet your mission and understand the role you play in the broader ecosystem.

It can be difficult to embody everything about what your organization is, why it exists and how it differs from and complements others like in just one statement. As you craft your nonprofit positioning statement, remember that it should be:

  • Focused on one idea
  • Simple
  • Concise
  • Committed

Let’s take a look at how some well-known nonprofits might craft their positioning statements around one idea. These statements are simple, concise and committed to their missions.

Charity: Water: For 663 million people on the planet who don’t have access to clean drinking water, Charity: Water is a nonprofit that funds water projects around the world that increases education, income and health – especially for women and kids.

Notice how this positioning statement encompasses the elements of foundational research we mentioned earlier. They describe how their organization addresses a stakeholder need: “funds water projects … for 663 million people on the planet who don’t have access to clean drinking water.” They address their biggest strength: “increases education, income and health – especially for women in kids.”

Other organizations’ positioning statements might look like this:

The Y: For individuals and families in 10,000 neighborhoods across the country who want to learn, grow and thrive, The Y is a nonprofit that offers community facilities and programs that bring people together, build community, improve health and nurtures potential.

The Great Books Foundation: For learners of all ages, The Great Books Foundation is the education nonprofit that offers reading and discussion programs that encourage you to think critically about your own life and the world we share.

As you’re creating your nonprofit positioning statement, remember: your positioning isn’t the only thing people think about you, it’s just the first thing. And, it’s internal — not the end-all and be-all of your external communications.

Putting your nonprofit positioning statement to use

Now that you have a nonprofit positioning statement, what do you do with it?

Revisit it before every communication or interaction.

Use your nonprofit positioning statement as a gut check when you’re writing, speaking or designing, or if you’re reviewing materials someone else has created. The core of all of your external communications should circle back to that positioning statement.

Audit your current communications.

Take a look at all of your existing communications. Does your website support your positioning statement? Are your client interactions supporting it? Do even your internal employee onboarding materials reflect it? If not, it’s time to revisit them.

Use your #nonprofit positioning statement as a gut check when you’re drafting any external messages. Click To Tweet

Distribute it to your team and educate them on its use.

Not only should your team understand what your positioning statement is, they should understand why it exists and where to use it. Take them through the main points we discuss in this post to ensure they understand the positioning statement itself is internal, but to keep its core elements in mind whenever they talk about your nonprofit to an external audience –– including family and friends. If possible, it’s ideal to involve your team in the development of your positioning statement rather than simply “handing it down” from the leadership team to staff.

Make sure your nonprofit positioning statement is reflected in your marketing.

The core of your nonprofit positioning statement should be reflected in all of your marketing materials. How can you make sure that happens? Start with our Essential Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template, which will guide you through creating a marketing plan that makes the most out of your mission. Download here.

Showing 4 comments
  • Segs

    Thanks so much for the post.Really thank you! Keep writing.

  • Canadiancialis

    Thank you ever so for you post.Much thanks again.

  • Linda

    How is a positioning statement different from your mission statement? Thanks!

    • mmadmin

      A mission statement is external-facing and explains the change you exist to drive forward. A positioning statement is internal and explains what your organization wants to be known for.

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