One of AEI’s three service areas is Strategic and Landscape Analysis. As experts in Africa – West Africa in particular – AEI is often called on to carry out Landscape Analyses and provide insights into opportunities and challenges hoping to expand or increase their funding portfolio. Often, clients are especially interested in donor priorities, donor interests and how to engage more effectively with donors. But effective strategic positioning really requires looking internally first, to understand what the organization has to offer potential donors and supporters. Effective strategic positioning requires an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses.
Be your worst critic:
Much of what prevents organizations from positioning strategically is that they haven’t addressed their biggest weaknesses. But that’s usually because they don’t know what their biggest weakness are. One organization’s director refused to practice his elevator pitch on the organization. As a result, he was never prepared when he had to quickly present his organization. Another client was implementing a project that needed to be handed over to the government – without ever speaking to the government.
Know what makes you the same as everyone else:
As with being your worst critic, it is important look internally before trying to position strategically. Organizations working in development often make the mistake of believing that they are radically different or better than their competitors. In reality, most development organizations have the same approaches, activities and ways of working. Results are often roughly the same. Real innovation is very rare. Be realistic about what you do, what you achieve and what really makes you different.
Focus on the one or two things you do differently:
Once you have looked critically at your organization, and you’ve been honest about what is the same as your competitors, home in on one or two things that are truly different. Being able to articulate your organization’s value succinctly by focus on the one or two things that you do well and that no one else does, will make you memorable to a donor. This is really the key to effective strategic positioning. If you truly know what makes you different, and if you can speak confidently and with conviction about it, you will make a memorable impression.
Align with donor interests first :
Once you truly know what makes your organization different, then you can identify the donors you align with. Your strategic positioning efforts should focus on the donors who are interested in the one or two things that set your organization apart. You make eventually meet with or target other donors, but your priority should know who values the same approaches and ways of working as you, who would be interested and enthusiastic to learn more about what you do. This is the key to strategic positioning – to know what your value proposition is, and target it to the donors (or partners) who are interested in it.
Jocelyn Farrington is one of AEI’s founding partners and Senior Expert, focusing on Strategic and Landscape Analysis and Technical Advisory Services, especially around program design. She has more than 20 years of executive level experience in development organizations in West Africa and has raised more than 500 million dollars for her clients.