In the United States, the three issues with the greatest number of supporters are curing disease, the environment, and education.

If you operate a fundraising event or program in one of these three issue areas, you probably spend a good bit of time thinking about your competitors.  You probably hear questions like this quite frequently from your board or your boss: “Who are our closest competitors? What differentiates us from our competitors? How are we going to stay ahead of our competition?”

Should you be able to answer these questions? Absolutely. Should they drive your strategy? Absolutely not. 

If you use competitive benchmarking as a proxy for strategy, you’re going to end up looking like everyone else in your issue area.  My advice: Don’t worry about your competition–let them worry about you. Focusing too much on your competition will only make you more like them.

“We’ve allowed benchmarking to peers to be our proxy for strategy for so long that I can’t say that there’s much that’s truly unique about [anyone in our industry].  And what’s implemented by one is quickly copied or adopted by another.  I do believe that we have the potential to truly differentiate, but we’re not seizing it.  We haven’t found our competitive advantage or created a “blue ocean.”  In my mind, [our industry] is the epitome of competitive convergence.”

Blue ocean what?

Blue Ocean Strategy takes the concept of strategy back to its roots in creative, innovative thinking, and away from the idea of obsessing about the competition, benchmarking and copying best practices. Instead it asks us to turn toward our target audience and ask, “What haven’t they seen?  What isn’t being done for them? What could we do that no one has done before?” Instead of focusing on replication, efficiency or implementation, Blue Ocean Strategy asks us to focus on developing innovative new events, programs, and services that enrich lives in a way that no one else has yet thought of.

For many of us, our greatest competitor is indifference

Sometimes it’s constituent indifference. Our constituents have so many choices that it requires everything we do–from our events to our volunteer programs to even our donation forms–to be remarkable and incomparable. 

In other cases, it may even be staff indifference.  Organizations become most vulnerable when staff don’t seem to care that they are becoming obsolete or they are too busy focusing on the wrong things

The next time you find yourself spending a lot of time and effort worrying about what your competitors are doing, remember that sometimes “the only way to beat the competition is to stop trying to beat the competition.”

Jono Smith is vice president of marketing at Event 360. You can find Jono on Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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