Famous Nonprofits are Overrated: 3 Advantages of Being a Small Nonprofit

Let’s be honest: bigger, more famous nonprofits have some distinct advantages over small to midsize nonprofits.

To get the obvious point out of the way, big nonprofits just have more money. They can afford to hire an outside web developer (or even a whole team) to make sure their website looks great, is optimized for mobile and is seamlessly converting prospects into donors. They can do all kinds of campaigns your small shop operation can only fantasize about running.

But the bigger advantage is simply that famous nonprofits have a strong, established brand. Everyone knows the names of organizations like charity:water, Girl Scouts and Red Cross, and awareness is half the battle.

You see the same thing when comparing large businesses vs. small, bootstrap operations. Nike’s brand name and logo in itself is worth billions. And because of Nike’s established brand, they have avenues of distribution and media that would be inaccessible to anyone trying to launch a sports apparel startup from their garage.

How to Make Noise as a Small Nonprofit


When people recognize a nonprofit’s name and brand, they make assumptions–that the nonprofit is reputable, successful, or doing world-changing work. How can smaller and middle-sized nonprofits be strong without an existing strong brand?

By learning to pick themselves, and choosing an audience whose worldview resonates with their ideas. Here’s what Seth Godin, renowned marketer and entrepreneur, has to say:\

“… We hesitate to invest the time to hear ideas from lesser-known sources. It’s not fair to the unknown [nonprofit], but it’s true.


I think this is changing, and fast. The permeability of the web means that you don’t have to start at the top, don’t have to get picked by TED or a by a big blog or by anyone with influence. Pick yourself.


It’s true that when you pick yourself, people aren’t as likely to embrace your idea (at first). That’s because the personal risk of hearing new ideas from new places is the fear that our opinion of the idea might not match everyone else’s.


… It takes quite a bit of work (and a lot of luck) to acquire a level of fame. The question that might be worth asking is whether or not that effort is related to the quality of ideas underneath.”

Standing out is about knowing your tribe, creating a powerful message for them (not just anybody) and telling the results as stories.

3 Big Advantages of Being a Small Nonprofit


As a small nonprofit, you have a few advantages the big guys don’t:

1) Agility. When you learn a new way to hack your fundraising efforts, you can implement it tomorrow. When you test and figure out that your latest idea isn’t giving you a significant ROI, you can pivot and try something else. Big nonprofits can’t pivot easily–and are often too afraid to try something risky and unproven in the first place.

2) Bureaucracy. If you do a PR interview, you don’t have to worry about what your boss will think or whether you’re ok to reveal organizational details, because you probably are the boss. Transparency is wonderful, but many larger organizations aren’t willing to embrace the risks of being real and discussing the challenges of their organization–which are often the best, most inspiring stories anyway!

3) Personality. When there are only a few people deeply involved in your nonprofit, they become the face of your organization. Don’t try to be objective, professional and impersonal like the big dogs. Your personality is your greatest strength–giant nonprofits would kill for a strong, personal human voice, but it’s hard to achieve when you’re so massive.

Your small nonprofit needs to embrace the advantages that come with being smaller and less recognized. You’ll never win if you compete on brand recognition, expensive video campaigns and celebrity endorsements. Instead, compete by being different, unique and embracing the ideas big, established nonprofits won’t risk.

You change the world by being great, not by being famous.

You’ll have plenty of time for recognition later. There’s work to be done now.


Marc Koenig

Marc Koenig is a regular contributor of Nonprofit Hub. Marc believes smart, ethical marketing can make the world a better place, and strives to create content that helps nonprofits tell better stories, push their organizations to excel and do work that matters. You'll find him writing Nonprofit Hub featured posts, brainstorming infographics and tweeting up a storm at @npmarc - follow him and say hi!

February 18, 2013

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