The secret sauce behind every compelling social post, eblast, and fundraising appeal? It’s called a great value proposition.
Arts and nonprofit leaders spend so much time explaining how their work impacts their audiences. The way they tell their organization’s story informs mission statements, strategic plans, press releases, and fundraising appeals. But can we be brutally honest here? Many orgs don’t do a good job of connecting how what they do relates to what their audiences actually want.
This is another opportunity where nonprofits can look to best practices in marketing to lead the way. While many nonprofits can’t match the large marketing teams or advertising budgets of big corporate brands, they can still take a page out of their marketing playbooks and speak to the unique problem or deeper desire their audience has that their product, program, or service solves. We call this a value proposition and it’s the single most important element of any brand’s marketing strategy.
Speak to the unique problem or deeper desire your audience has that your product, program, or service solves.
Many organizations speak about their work from the perspective of their executive or artistic director and what’s important to them and their peers, or worse: they simply list the types of programs or services they offer. And though there is a time and place for that approach, it’s missing the basic foundation on which an entire storytelling strategy should be built. If you’ve fallen into one of these traps, don’t worry: we’ll show you how to go deeper and craft a compelling value proposition right now.
What's in the sauce?
Your value proposition should tell your audience:
What makes your organization unique and different from others
Why your organization is important or valuable
Who your programs/services are for (hint: this should not be “everyone” even if you welcome everybody!)
The problem, need, or desire your audience has that your programs/services fulfill
Let us show you what we mean:
Imagine you’re searching for a wallet to purchase for a friend’s birthday. You’re scrolling through different sites, comparing pricing and materials. How do you decide between Wallet 1, Wallet 2, and Wallet 3, assuming they’re all similarly priced? You guessed it: the value proposition.
“Our wallets are unique, stylish, and high quality.”
Not a great value proposition. This is quite generic, and you might find this description on 100 different sites.
“Handmade in Dallas, Texas, our wallets feature one-of-a-kind designs and genuine leather.”
Getting better. It gives a few details about why the wallets are special and connects to a specific location. If you care about buying USA-made products, that’s great information to include.
“Modern minimalist design meets old-world craftsmanship to create your forever wallet. Featuring timeless styles and buttery-soft full-grain leather, each of our wallets is handcrafted and guaranteed for life.”
The best by far because it speaks directly to a specific consumer's needs. “Timeless style” speaks to a customer who doesn’t want to have to worry about changing style trends. “Guaranteed for life” solves the problem of constantly having to shop for and purchase a new wallet.
An effective value prop speaks directly to a specific consumer's needs.
How to craft your company's unique value proposition
This exercise will give you a place to start. Don’t focus on wordsmithing right now—first, you need to get clear about what you should communicate, then worry about how.
The first sentence should answer these questions:
Who are you?
What do you specialize in/do?
Who do you do it for?
The second sentence should:
Highlight at least one of your most important unique selling points
Identify the problem you’re solving
Further define what you do (if you have space)
Once you have the basics, play with your tone and adjectives. How do you want audiences to feel when they read this? What sort of tone do you use when you speak to your followers on social media? Aim for language that feels invitational and aligned with your other public platforms.
Remember: your value proposition should be the key concept driving all of your communications. Whether you’re sharing a press release, social media post, annual report, or year-end fundraising email, we should be able to find the consistent thread of your value proposition throughout all of these materials. It’s not a marketing campaign slogan—it’s your evergreen pitch for why you do what you do.
Examples to kickstart your process
We love to shout out good marketing when we see it, so we’ve rounded up a few examples of great value propositions out in the wild.
La Jolla Playhouse
"La Jolla Playhouse is where artists and audiences come together to create what’s new and next in American Theatre. From Tony Award-winning plays and musicals, to imaginative programs for young audiences, to interactive experiences outside our theatre walls, the Playhouse brings people together to inspire discussion and open pathways to new ways of thinking."
Arcade Comedy "Drop in and see dynamic, creative, and hilarious comedy shows Thursday through Saturday. Guests can BYOB or grab a drink in our lounge. It’s the perfect night out in the Cultural District. "
412 Food Rescue
"Prevent perfectly good food from going to waste."
*this one wins the brevity award
Need more help identifying your value proposition? We have over 20 combined years of experience working with arts and culture organizations and can help you write one in one of our custom intensives. Email us at email@example.com to get the secret sauce.