“What makes us distinctive or different or unique as compared with other institutions like us?”
This is a question that Board members, administrative leaders, advancement folk, and others ask regularly and with some measure of irritation.
The regularity of asking this question stems from the fact that our answer is fundamentally important to our marketing, storytelling, and fundraising. The accompanying irritation arises from the belief that the answer should be plainly visible and easy to express.
Everyone agrees: We need to share a concise, coherent, and captivating message about what makes us special.
The problem is that most people want to answer this question by addressing what we do.
“We have a fantastic arts program!”
“Our hematology and oncology division is the best!”
“We offer the most comprehensive family counseling!”
The reality is that many institutions do similar things. Perhaps even do things as well or better. Or, if they aren’t as good as you, in the minds of your various audiences, it is a distinction without a difference.
Instead of focusing so intently on what you do, try answering this question by addressing where you serve, who you serve, and how you serve.
You might have a fantastic arts program. But, telling the story of how your arts program is shaped intrinsically by the culture of your community or region is far more intriguing.
You might have the best hematology and oncology division. But, telling the story of how your research and novel treatments are serving the most at-risk populations in your community is far more interesting.
You might offer comprehensive family counseling. But, telling the story of how children who participate in your program report feeling welcomed, safe, seen, and heard is far more compelling.
Place matters. People matter. And how they feel matters.