Lesson: Strategy

Where Do You Stand?

Learn why competitive analysis is so important to your organization’s communications success. We’ll also review a framework you can use to stay organized when conducting an analysis.

Setting the stage

In order to know where you are going, you need to know where you are now. Research how your organization is currently performing. How is your institution perceived externally? Internally? Are your audiences engaging with your organization? If so, do you know when or why? If audiences are not engaging, why not?

Finding answers to these sorts of questions will help you uncover what is working for your organization—and what requires improvement. However, this information doesn’t tell the whole story. The best communications strategies are also informed by insights about peer organizations, including partners and those with whom you compete for fundraising support. Researching similar organizations and seeing the full landscape allows you to contextualize your organization’s position and better understand how to stand apart in a crowded field. Competitive research can also provide valuable lessons by allowing you to see what is or is not working for other institutions. The bottom line? You need to look inward and outward to know how best to move forward.

Poll 2
How are you currently keeping up with what’s happening at peer organizations?

How are you currently keeping up with what’s happening at peer organizations?
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Start with a competitive landscape

A competitive landscape is a great starting point to provide a context for understanding your organization. What types of information should you collect? Based on what’s most relevant to your organization, consider assessing your: logo, tagline, mission, geographic area served, services offered, and social media presence.

Be sure to take a look at organizations that are close to home, as well as a couple regional or even national players. Casting a wider net in this way can help you understand the larger context of your cause’s landscape, and find inspiration in unlikely places.

Reviewing the competitive landscape annually allows you to see how your institution changed in relation to others in your field year over year. It can help you evaluate your own communications efforts and provide insight into what worked well for comparators.

What do you need to know about your peers?

Once you have identified organizations that are comparators in your space, you will want to create a framework to compare and contrast your organization with others. You’ll want to note their mission, goals, constituents, key messages, and digital and visual identities. Creating a chart or a presentation can allow you to see where there are overlaps with your peers and where you or a comparator may be excelling in a particular area.

Synthesizing the information you collect will help you see where your organization can grow or uncover different communications efforts to try. For example, perhaps a peer is doing a great job keeping its audiences informed via a monthly newsletter. Or maybe this exercise reveals a need to freshen up your visual brand identity, such as typeface or color palette.

What is a SWOT analysis?

A SWOT analysis is a tool you can use to learn about the current state of your organization and the landscape that surrounds it. This framework helps you understand how your organization can improve and what external factors may influence performance. Because it involves reviewing both internal and external factors, a SWOT analysis is a helpful bridge between a communications audit of your own organization and a competitive landscape scan of peers in your field. Click on the cards below to learn about each step of a SWOT analysis.


Weaknesses are another facet to consider when reviewing your organization’s internal or changeable qualities. Are you still trying to build a social media presence on the platforms your audiences love? Is your primary brochure outdated? Weaknesses could also include gaps on your team—perhaps someone with complementary skills needs to be hired—or processes that are inefficient.


When reviewing the internal strengths of your organization, think about what is in your organization’s control. This can include employees and volunteers that are key to your success, or processes that continue to prove effective. A strength can also be your organization’s value proposition and how it makes you more successful than comparators.


SWOT is a framework that allows you to uncover where your organization stands and how it compares to other organizations. The acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The Strengths and Weakness components are internal reflections whereas Opportunities and Threats measure external factors. Another way to frame this is: what can we change as an organization and what is beyond our control?


In considering external factors, note opportunities that will allow your organization to grow and succeed. Opportunities could include events where your organization could contribute or participate, or the general sentiment about your issue area or cause. Again, these are factors that you cannot control but can be leveraged by your organization to broaden your audience and reach.


Threats are external to your organization and could damage your reputation or issue area. Some threats to consider include negative sentiment about your organization, a comparator organization’s partnership with a key policymaker, or their news coverage, for example. Is a peer organization gaining mindshare or developing a reputation as the go-to resource when reporters write about your cause?


Check Your Understanding

What does the “T” in SWOT stand for?
Which of the following could be considered an “Opportunity” in a SWOT analysis?
Which organizations should you include in your competitive analysis?
Why should an organization undertake a competitive landscape analysis?


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