Are you in a Blue Ocean?

Recently I was reading a book called The Blue Ocean Strategy, recommended to me by Molly Ola Pinney and Aja Davis. This book was one of the things she recommended at the Next Level Fundraising Conference. It was a book I had never heard of before. But these powerful concepts can ABSOLUTELY apply to your nonprofit.

What is the basic concept behind the Blue Ocean strategy?

In a red ocean, you’re all sharks, making the water red with blood. You’re competing with other nonprofits for limited donors and shrinking donor dollars.

In a red ocean, for example, there are 6 domestic violence shelters and crisis lines for domestic violence in town, and you all want the same donors, and you’re all doing the same thing. You all have one fundraising person, each, and maybe a bigger one has a communications person as well.

According to the Blue Ocean Strategy, here’s what a Red Ocean looks like, with Head to Head competition

Industry -> Focuses on rivals within its industry
Strategic Group -> Focuses on better serving the buyer group
Scope of product or service offering -> Focuses on maximizing the value of product and service offerings within the bounds of its industry
Functional-emotional orientation -> Focuses on improving price performance within the functional-emotional orientation of the industry
Time -> Focused on adapting to external trends as they occur

Your board members bounce from nonprofit to nonprofit, and all of you are not working together because you all want to control your own corner of the domestic violence field. Who suffers here? The clients. But it keeps going.

ARGH! How can we stop the madness?

Make a Blue Ocean

In a blue ocean, you float above the competition, or in another place entirely, away from sharks, where you don’t have to worry. You have a nonprofit that has no competition.

Maybe you have become the convener of domestic violence shelters, and you are all partnering with what you do best.

Or maybe your nonprofit does something different than other nonprofits do.

  • For example, maybe you have different income generation strategies.
  • Maybe you have ways to give donors experiences that other nonprofits do not know how to do.
  • Maybe your nonprofit differentiates itself with its branding.
  • Maybe you have a different focus, a different mission, and a different tagline that sets you apart.
  • Maybe your nonprofit automates fundraising and cultivation processes that other nonprofits have to do by hand.
  • In a blue ocean, your nonprofit shapes the trends, instead of being defined by external trends.

According to the Blue Ocean strategy, here’s what it looks like when you get into a blue ocean.

Blue Ocean Creation

Industry -> Look across alternative industries
Strategic Group -> Looks across strategic groups within the industry
Scope of product or service offering -> Looks across to complementary product and service offerings
Functional-emotional orientation -> Rethink the functional-emotional orientation of the industry
Time -> Participate in shaping external trends over time

How can your nonprofit create a blue ocean?

  1. So there’s a shrinking donor pool. Is there a way you can create new donors out of people who would not otherwise ever become donors? Can you get involved with a giving day for your state? Or another giving trend?
  2. Can you start to create a monthly giving program that sets you apart from other nonprofits?
  3. Can you offer products or services to your donors, volunteers or even other nonprofits that sets you apart?

If you want to create a blue ocean, what will you

  • Eliminate?
  • Reduce?
  • Raise?
  • Create?

For example, will you eliminate the time it takes to get back to a donor by automating your donation thank you emails?

Will you eliminate the time it takes to nurture a donor after they give the first time, through automated updates?

Will you reduce confusion about how to get involved with you? Will you reduce the typical donor confusion about how to get involved with you, by creating a calendar of events, of volunteer opportunities, and of ways to help, all in one section of your website, or in a series of communications for new subscribers or donors?

Will you create new ways to connect with your cause, by creating speaker trainings, or a speakers bureau around your cause?

Will you create new ways to keep in touch with supporters and donors, creating a community on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, or Instagram?

Here are some of the hurdles to a blue ocean strategy:

Motivational hurdle: Unmotivated Staff
Political Hurdle: Opposition from powerful vested interests
Cognitive hurdle: An organization wedded to the status quo
Resource hurdle: Limited Resources

Recently when i was talking with a nonprofit founder about doing more with edutourism with her nonprofit. We had talked about it two years previously, and she had made no movement on this.

There were mitigating circumstances such as the fact that she had her first baby, and a full time job, plus had switched jobs. Her nonprofit had always been a side project for her, and to do edutourism, you need to dedicate someone full time to this. So right here, there’s the motivational hurdle. But there was also a Cognitive Hurdle. They had depended on one grant for so long, it was hard for her to make the shift to think about getting money a new way. And of course, the Resource hurdle was also there. She didn’t have time to invest in learning about this new way of making money, or the money to hire someone to do this work for her.

When you look at the hurdles you face in your nonprofit to create a blue ocean, you might have to look a little closer to home than you feel comfortable with.

So, should you read Blue Ocean Strategy?

100% YES. Read it. Apply it. Get in there and create a Blue Ocean for your nonprofit NOW!

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