Unless you’re selling me a car, don’t talk to me about features.

Why should I care about your thing? Sure, YOU believe in the work your organization’s doing, but why should I give you my time and money? What makes you special? What makes you better?

Most organizations, when presented with this question, will immediately reach for the old marketing tool of features. Every product, service, or ministry has its own unique selling point (or USP) that they believe sets them apart and it’s easy to point to your USP and say, “This. This is why we’re special and why you should give us your money.” But that tactic almost always ignores the fundamental truth that spending money hurts. There’s an actual, physiological reaction in the part of the brain that registers pain and disgust when people are asked to spend money. A cool feature – no matter how shiny or heartwarming – often isn’t enough to overcome this pain.

So, how do we, as smart marketers, overcome this pain reaction? We change the conversation from features to value and use what we do to alleviate pain instead of cause it.

Value-Based Marketing

When we use value-based statements in our marketing, we’re changing the conversation from “we do this thing” to “we made this impact.” Here’s an example:

Feature-Based Statement
All donations go towards supporting our education and community enrichment efforts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Value-Based Statement
Because of your gifts, 8,000 children will have access to education and clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.

When we present an audience with a feature-based statement, we’re leaving it up to them to figure out the extent of the impact of that feature. When we use a value-based statement, on the other hand, we’re taking the guesswork out of the process. We’re telling them exactly how we’re going to use their money to make things better. In most cases, audiences don’t care HOW something works, they just want to know that it WILL work. The result is far more important than the exact mechanism.


Research shows that over 75% of executives at organizations whose new initiatives failed to achieve their objectives blamed poor value propositions as the root cause.

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

The Elements of Value-Based Marketing

Audience Pain Points

Before you can effectively sell your value to your audience, you have to understand the values that your audience holds. You need to identify their frustrations, fears, and passions. These are their pivot points and anytime that you can use of one of them, you can swing them towards your organization. When you can address the things that matter to your audience, you’ve provided value to them. But you have to know what they care about? It’s very simple: how can you address values that you don’t know about?

Value Statements

Value statements, as we’ve already discussed, are statements that tell your audience exactly how you’re going to make a difference. It’s not enough to just make a value statement, however. Generally speaking, these statements need to be supported by details or they just feel like snake-oil salesmanship. If you tell your audience that you can save lives or feed the hungry – but don’t tell them how – they are going to assume that you’re selling smoke and mirrors and move on to a competitor whose work feels more solid and grounded.

Value statements don’t have to speak directly to a fear, passion, or frustration either. At the top of the article, we joked about cars being about features but, if you ask a really good luxury car salesman, they’ll tell you that features only get you so far. You have to sell the “value” of that expensive car. You have to sell a customer on how good they’re going to look and feel in that fancy vehicle. The luxury of a thing is a value, not a feature. It’s not a pain point – they don’t feel or look bad in their current vehicle – but it’s a value statement that they’ll look and feel even better in that fancy sports car. This same principle works for non-profits and ministries. You need to sell them on how they’re going to feel about themselves when they support your work. You need to show them that they are a major part of the solutions that you’re providing. You need to make them feel like they, by contributing to your work, are directly impacting the lives of the people that you serve. This makes them feel really good about themselves and THAT has a real, tangible, monetary value to people.

Reassurance Statements

In addition to supporting your value statements with details, you need to provide reassurance statements. Reassurance statements are a type of value statement designed to sell one value above all others – legitimacy. Knowing that your money is going to a reputable organization and is even more critical for non-profits and ministries than it is for businesses. When you give money to a business, you’re expecting to receive something in return. When you do the same thing for a non-profit, you’re trusting that they are using it to benefit someone else. Reassurance statements are the most commonly overlooked type of value statement in marketing but they are incredibly powerful.

Reassurance statements come in two flavors: indirect reassurance and direct reassurance. The most common examples of these are organization “about” or “portfolio” pages and testimonials. With a history or “about” page, you’re telling a potential donor that you’ve been around (you’re stable) and that you’re staffed by professionals (you have the expertise to do what you say you’re going to). Your organization’s “portfolio” shows that you know what you’re doing and that you’ve done it before. These are examples of indirect reassurance statements. You’re not explicitly saying, “We’re stable.” You’re showing them evidence that you’re stable instead. The alternatives to indirect reassurance statements are direct reassurances and the best kind of direct reassurance statements are testimonials and success stories. These are quotes, stories, and videos from the people that you serve where they tell your audience how great you were to work with or how life-changing your work was or how much better their life is since they worked with you. A great testimonial is a direct reassurance to your audience that spending money with you will make a concrete difference.

For the Win: Conversion-centric Calls to Action

Of course, the effectiveness of value-based marketing (or any marketing, for that matter) is drastically reduced if you’re not providing conversion-centric CTAs for your audience. We’re all familiar with the concept of calls to action, of course. “Find Out More,” “Add to Cart,” “Call Us Today” – every time we ask our audience to DO something, that’s a CTA. But where a conversion-centric CTA differs from a normal CTA is that it gives you a conversion point. Conversion points can look like a number of things. The most common are email address captures, phone calls, contact form submissions, and, of course, purchases. When you attach a conversion point to a CTA, you drastically increase the actual, monetary value of that CTA. Think about it; what if, when you showed a video on your website, you asked for an email address first? Of course, you have to provide a convincing value statement so that people will be willing to give you that info but, once they’ve done so, you have the ability to follow up with those potential donors later. Any good donor development manager will tell you, the follow-up is critical to getting the donation. With conversion-centric CTAs, you get that chance.

So What’s Next?

You need to re-evaluate your current messaging and ask yourself, “Are we communicating value to our audience?” If you’re just telling them what you do and not how you’re making a difference, you need to rework your marketing strategy. Identify your audience’s fears, passions, and frustrations and consider how you can address those pivot points. Create messaging that reassures your audience and makes them believe that you have the power to make things better.

AM can take the guesswork out of the process and give you a conversion-focused marketing plan that will streamline your donation process and grow your bottom line. Ready to move beyond features and show your audience real value? Let’s talk.