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Pandemic: Requiring Future Sustainable Advantages


Every non-profit organization is thinking now about how to sustain the future--whether its a rainy day fund, a further emphasis on endowment or consideration of revamping the structure of their organization, that is, building strength for the future in different ways.



Organizations want to be distinctive, but now it is imperative--the pandemic has changed many things in how an organization is going to operate. Providing a unique service at a competitive price is at the base of most decisions or providing a unique service that is desperately needed by the community. Does the organization provide a service that is of perceived superior value? Does the organization focus on a particular market niche with a tailored offering for that market? Any of the nonprofit's abilities that are difficult to duplicate or exceed will provide a favorable long-term position over any competitors.


Most non-profits don't have the buying power or are simply not large enough to be all things to all people in the market place. So they need to develop some sustainable competitive advantages and protect and expand them at all costs. With these advantages, they can thrive in what is going to be an increasingly competitive marketplace.


  • Children's Hospitals are examples of powerful brands in their particular markets, resulting from significant investments in time and money and a focus on a precious segment of the population. Successful research enhances that brand because it gives these specialty hospitals a distinctive national reputation--drawing patients from outside of the region. As a result, children's hospitals have a wonderful sustainable advantage and families, foundations and corporations want to ensure that they are the best they can be so regular investments are imperative.

  • Patents, trademarks, copy rights, long-term contracts are examples of assets that provide sustainable competitive advantages. This is why hospital contracts are high-stakes negotiations in their markets. It is why groups like the Anne Frank Center become regional and national icons.

  • Outstanding leadership is another good example of a sustainable advantage. Bill Strickland is the pioneer behind the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, he emerged to win the McArthur Genius Award, is recognized and admired regionally, nationally and internationally and has made a positive impact on the lives of countless youth and families. His program has begun to expand to other countries--he provides a genuine advantage to regions throughout the US touched by his creation.

  • Securing funding for an organization--whether in the form of major gifts, a quasi-endowments or endowments also provides a competitive advantage...any strong, stable form of funding strengthens an organization. This includes a strong annual fund, or a remarkable direct mail campaign (think St. Judes's), or a cause related marketing campaign (Dana Farber Cancer Center). Here's how:

  1. With increased funding, a non-profit can attract outstanding staff. Taking the organization to the next step requires initiative and solid staff will provide this.

  2. Outstanding staff provide a growing positive reputation, drawing clients to your organization. While it takes time for the word to get out, the community will begin to notice.

  3. A larger group of clients or enrollment increases volumes of activities. Perhaps clients engage for the first time or for repeated times...increasing the reputation of a good program.

  4. Increased volume helps to motivate and retain staff. Who doesn't enjoy working with a successful organization? With staff participating in the decision making, it increases satisfaction and morale, providing a great base of productivity.

  5. Fundraising efforts and organizational goals become more successful. This further improves the organization's reputation. As the organization grows, more people want to support it, community leaders become involved, activity increases and the impact is felt by everyone. And the reputation grows.

  6. A stronger reputation inspires more community members to become involved and increases willingness to invest in the organization. Donors enjoy being part of a group that ensures success for the organization...accountable organizations that make a strong community impact.

  7. Increased philanthropy continues to provide investment in the organization's vision. One investment encourages another--and the cycle continues, as shown in this chart. Over and over.


Of course, all organizations must start at the beginning and build. Each organization can create an advantage at each phase of growth--outstanding value for investment, excellent services, talented staff, inspired leadership, solid fundraising efforts, great facilities, terrific reputation...whatever it may be. And each step creates a sustainable advantage that should always be celebrated, protected and nurtured--no leader or staff members should ever let these advantages be squandered. And every leader at each level in the growth strategy should plan and create, perhaps using (or being compelled to us) some radical techniques during and in the aftermath of a pandemic.


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In the wake of this pandemic, leaders should note: Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, the cumulative experience of many masters of craftsmanship. Quality also marks the search for an ideal after necessity has been satisfied and mere usefulness achieved. This is a quote from Will A. Foster from a company long since gone in Detroit, MI, when he gave an address entitled: Advantages of a Business Depression to a Sales Organization.


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Thanks to Joann Tissue, Executive Assistant at Hefren Tillotson, for creating the Sustainable Advantage Chart.

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