One of my favorite Sopranos moments came in the first season in an exchange between Livia “Sunshine” Soprano and her grandson A.J. Ever the irrepressible optimist, Livia blurts out:

“It’s all a big nothing. What makes you think you’re so special.”

It’s a question non-profits ask themselves every day, admittedly in less psychotic circumstances.

The need to differentiate haunts organization leaders, communicators and fundraisers. And more often than not, organizations get it wrong. Here’s why:

Differentiation only works when it is both visible and meaningful to your donors or other audiences.

When we ask CEOs what separates their organization from the (usually crowded) pack, we typically get answers like “we’re the group that gets results,” or “we have the strongest policy team.” That may make for some pride moments at Board meetings, but it’s meaningless out in the real world.

Brand drives fundraising. Brand is 100% about perception. Who your donor thinks you are and how and why that matters to them is what makes them want to connect. Listen to them and distinguish yourself in ways that matter to them.