What’s the most popular food served at conferences?
You guessed it. Chicken.
What’s the most popular flavor of ice cream?
If you said “vanilla,” kudos again.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with chicken or vanilla. Although I do like both, I’m more of a seafood and habanero lover (yes, there’s even a habanero ice cream — it’s pretty good actually).
But here’s the thing: Both of those options sum up what’s wrong with the nonprofit world. We’re plain. Boring. In the vanilla zone. And non-confrontational when need be.
Our organizations all seem to blend together — only we can see what differentiates ourselves from our peers. Vanilla zone marketing abounds, because they’re afraid to be edgy. And that means to our audience, we all look homogeneous. Bland. Blah. Banal. Dull as dishwater.
How do you ever expect to raise any real money that way?
Until we make it very clear what we stand for; what sets us apart; our organizations are going to blend in with the rest of the world.
Have you ever noticed that the leaders in any industry have enemies? You hear about them (the enemies) all the time. But guess what? The industry leaders’ companies earn a lot of money. And those leaders also have friends and plenty of supporters, too. That’s the part you do not hear about — because the enemies are the emotional ones who scream and shout to get themselves heard.
Look around you — who is a leader? Look at comedians and politicians. Look at business owners. Look at musicians, writers, and actors. Who is “making it” and who is not? You’ll find the successful ones stand for something.
They pick their battles.
Unless you are loved and hated at the same time, you — and your organization — are going to be a nobody.
OK … I really do not mean “hated.” But at least learn to stand out, to avoid vanilla marketing so you don’t look like a macaroni-and-cheese, everyday lunchbox meal, or perhaps a dishwasher.
Learn to differentiate yourself, and your organization — otherwise, you’re going to blend into the wallpaper.
And if you do not differentiate yourself, do not complain. Learn to live on what you’re making and how you’re living. Because in the vanilla zone, you’re never going to do any better.