What is Your Value Proposition?

There is always more to learn about how to research and find the “best fit” funders for your organization. But what happens when it’s time to talk to that potential funder? What do you say? How can you communicate the essence of your nonprofit’s mission and impact to a potential funder or donor without overwhelming them with details? Funders and donors are deluged with requests so you need to stand out. To do so, consider developing a value proposition, which can also serve as your “elevator speech”.

The term “elevator speech” refers to the brief time you have to tell someone about your organization or program, grab their attention and be memorable. This is essentially the time it takes to ride an elevator—about 30 seconds or less. In business, a value proposition is defined as “a positioning statement that explains what benefit you provide for who and how you do it uniquely well. It describes your target buyer, the problem you solve, and why you’re distinctly better than the alternatives.” (Skok, M. Forbes; June 14, 2013; accessed online: www.forbes.com).

Nonprofit organizations face many of the same challenges as businesses, and can also benefit from a value proposition. This is especially important in grant development because nonprofits are essentially competing for funding. You need to stand out from the competition—that is, from the other organizations that are providing similar services to yours and are vying for the same grant dollars.

Here’s an example of where a value proposition comes in handy. Most grant proposals pose some form of the question: “Do you know of other groups doing similar or related work?  If so, how does your work differ from, or complement theirs?” (Rochester Common Application Form, November 2006, www.racf.org). The value proposition helps differentiate your nonprofit from others that do similar work.

To create a value proposition, fill in the blanks: We [OR name your organization] work with [insert your target audience] to [insert what you do] as needed to achieve [insert your key outcome].

There are many templates available on the Internet that will help you create a sound value proposition. The following is one that I recommend, as it directly relates to grant development. While it was created for business, it can also be adapted for the nonprofit sector. The items in italics parallel requirements typically found in a grant proposal.

1. Highlight the enormity of the problem you are tackling. (Needs Statement)

2. Tell the audience up front what your company sells. (Organization Description)

3. Distill the differentiation down to one, easy-to-comprehend sentence. (Unique)

4. Establish credibility by sharing the pedigree of the entrepreneurs, customers, or the investors. (Past Accomplishments).

Note: If your nonprofit or program is new, you can establish credibility by drawing on the success / impact of similar programs in other locations.


“One person dies of melanoma every 62 minutes. We offer a dermatoscope app for iPhone that enables people to easily diagnose their skin, leveraging patented pattern recognition technology trusted by the World Health Organization.” (“7 Proven Templates for Writing Value Propositions That Work”, Lingo Labs, November 29, 2011).

Value propositions are also very helpful in differentiating ourselves, as well as the nonprofits we work for. With the upcoming Annual Grant Professionals Association Conference just around the corner, November 9-12, 2016 in Atlanta, NOW is a good time to craft your value proposition. It will go a long way toward helping you connect meaningfully with others and learning about their work.