In the world of consultant-speak, we have always held the unique value proposition (UVP) as one of the few bits of branding “conventional wisdom” that actually matters.

We’re starting to change our minds.

We have long held that mission, vision and values statements tend to be useless bs. But we’ve always adhered to the view that successful fundraising organizations do need to differentiate themselves from other similar causes in order to succeed.

The problem is, that’s not necessarily what we are seeing. In 10 years of research on dozens of organizations, there appears to be at best a weak connection between the percentage of donors who characterize a cause as “unique and different” and their overall propensity to give.

Here’s one reason: The demand for “uniqueness” leads to distinctions that almost never matter to donors and other target audiences. Here are some of those distinctions without a difference that we hear all the time:

  • “We are the effective ones.” Says who?
  • “We are science-based.” What does that even mean?
  • “We track metrics and measure success.” This can be important to a subset of the donor universe, but the majority either assumes everyone does this, or just don’t really care.

This growing skepticism squares with the private sector perspective of ad guru Roy Williams, aka “The Wizard of Ads:”

“If the public cares enough about a particular “selling proposition” to respond to it, your competitors will quickly adopt it. So tell me, which was the first online company to offer free shipping and how long did it remain “unique” to them?”

It’s not that uniqueness never matters. It especially matters when your audience understands and values your unique qualities and there are barriers to entry to prevent other causes from doing the same thing.

Focus more on connecting emotionally with your donors and the things that matter most to them. If it’s not unique, that might just not matter.