Use Your Niche to Supercharge Your Mission

Real-world examples of social impact brands that used their niche to supercharge their mission.

Niche 2 Supercharge Your Mission Webite

In our article titled 8 Key Ingredients to Defining Your Social Impact Niche, we pointed out several elements you can use to define your social impact niche. Let’s take these ingredients from the conceptual to the practical and explore a few real-world examples of social impact brands that have used their niche to supercharge their mission.

Example 1

Our first example is turning the tide for smallholder farmers across Africa. And it’s a perfect case study for why getting the right mix of ingredients is so important when defining your niche. 

With a unique blend of innovation, sustainability, and a laser-focused mission, they've managed to double incomes, massively improve sustainability in farming, and boost food security. And their work also helps fight larger systemic issues like climate change and financial instability. 

They’ve impacted over 4 million farmers worldwide. And the farmer’s they serve increased their harvests by 25% and their profits by 45% on the same plot of land compared to non-participating farmers.

The name of this Organization is One Acre Fund.

Niche 2 One Acre Fund Logo

So how does One Acre Fund’s niche strategy help power their success? 

Let’s examine this through the lens of the niche ingredients we covered earlier. Although One Acre Fund uses many ingredients to define their niche, there are three that really stand out.

Ingredient 1: Their Audience

The first ingredient One Acre Fund leverages powerfully is Their Audience. They primarily assist smallholder farmers in Africa, focusing on those who face financial and environmental challenges. By focusing exclusively on this community, they are able to listen and learn from these farmers to deeply understand their unique challenges and opportunities. 

They can then develop support, approaches, and solutions that meet these specific needs because they are laser-focused on smallholder farmers in Africa. 

Their approach likely wouldn't work for large scale farmers or farmers in South America. And if they’d tried to help all farmers across the world all at once, they likely never would have gained the initial traction needed to make any meaningful impact. 

Deeply and authentically helping a smaller niche community can often create significantly more overall impact than helping a larger group, but not helping the larger group very much. 

Ingredient 2: Their Operating & Revenue Model

The second key ingredient One Acre Fund leverages is their Operating & Revenue Model.  Unlike many organizations that might offer singular forms of support, One Acre Fund’s model addresses the entire farming lifecycle. This holistic approach ensures that farmers receive the support they need to succeed, from farm supplies and trainings, to financing, insurance, and last-mile delivery.

One Acre Fund's model is funded through a combination of donor support and revenue generated from the sale of products and other services. This hybrid model allows for sustainability and scale for their own revenue. These funds are then allocated directly back into program services to reach more farmers and improve and scale their offerings.

Ingredient 3: Their Point of View

The third — and possibly the most important ingredient in One Acre Fund’s niche — is their Point of View (POV). There are many other agriculture-focused nonprofits across the globe, but One Acre Fund has a distinct POV that investing in small-scale farms in Africa is the best way to improve sustainability in farming and boost food security.

Rather than simply providing handouts or relief to farmers in need, they believe it’s better to invest in them directly and empower them to increase their yields and grow their profits. 

One Acre Farm’s POV is distinct to their organization. 

These three ingredients work together in a powerful, synergistic way.

You can see how these ingredients help One Acre Farm stand out from other nonprofits in their broader category of sustainable agriculture.

Example 2

Our second example combines two ingredients into their Theory of Change that you might not think go together well, like Pickles on a Peanut Butter Sandwich. (Try it. It’s better than you probably think.)

This nonprofit, based in Brooklyn, New York, is transforming the STEM field by empowering girls of color with the know-how, experience, and confidence they need to dream big in STEM. 

But the way that they’re doing this is what really stands out. Because they’re delivering their STEM programs and education through the joy and flow of dance. 

Their name? STEM From Dance.

Niche 2 STEM From Dance Logo

What are some of the ingredients that help STEM From Dance stand out in the STEM diversity, education, and career niche?

You’ll see some overlap in the ingredient types from example 1 here, but these are strong examples of how these ingredients can make a powerful difference in defining your niche and helping you stand out in the attention economy.

Ingredient 1: A Unique Point of View

STEM from Dance believes that dance creates a warm, joyful atmosphere that builds sisterhood, fosters connections, lowers doubt, and makes for a STEM environment that is encouraging and inviting. 

Can you think of another STEM-focused organization that views their work this way? We can’t.

Ingredient 2: A Specific Audience

Building on their point of view, their second ingredient is their Specific Audience. STEM from Dance focuses on helping Girls of Color, who are traditionally underrepresented in the STEM field. Only 29% of people employed in STEM fields are women, while Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and Latina women make up just 4%.

STEM From Dance is on a mission to end race and gender disparity in STEM.

Ingredient 3: Their Operating Model

The third key ingredient is STEM From Dance’s Operating Model. By focusing primarily on summer programs as a way to reach new members through their Girls Rise Up program, they deliver meaningful impact and connection to their girls rapidly, and foster a tight-knit community from day-one. 

They then provide deeper follow-on support and nurturing for their members over time to help them transform that initial spark and confidence into meaningful growth and career opportunities in the STEM field. 

This model also serves as a source of earned revenue for their org, providing flexible funding that they can reinvest into their team and growth. 

STEM From Dance was founded on a bold and unexpected premise.

STEM From Dance’s boldness has earned them well-deserved success in a difficult category. They were honored to be one of two inaugural recipients of the Bridge Grant from the Simons Foundation's Science, Society & Culture division, the winner of the Tiger Global Impact Ventures and MIT Solve Challenge for Gender Equity in STEM, and awarded the Science Engagement Breakthrough of the Year at the prestigious Falling Walls Science Summit — all in 2023 alone.

Example 3

Our third example shows that sometimes, owning a niche can be accomplished with a single powerful ingredient. This social enterprise saw a unique opportunity to tackle the growing challenge of waste in the global shipping and packaging industry.

Each year, 2.2 million tons of expanded polystyrene foam is produced. This is the foam that you typically see used to keep your products protected in their cardboard boxes while they travel from corporate warehouses to your front door or business.

But standard expanded polystyrene takes 500 to 1,000 years to biodegrade, and these are just the current best estimates. 

Even as a new and growing startup, this company’s work has already diverted 817 football fields worth of PolyStyrene from the landfill and mitigates 17,000 tons of CO2 each year. 

This social enterprise is Cruz Foam.

Niche 2 Cruz Foam

And their unique solution to this problem comes from the ocean. A small creature in the ocean, actually. 

Cruz Foam is made of chitin, derived from shrimp cells sustainably sourced from naturally occurring waste streams in the seafood industry. And Cruz Foam biodegrades over 3,000 times faster than Expanded PolyStyrene.

The main ingredient that Cruzfoam uses to define their niche is this unique strength — specifically their innovation and development of a new material designed to solve a growing environmental problem. 

Their Single Unique Ingredient

Cruz Foam has essentially designed an entirely new category for themselves, and have earned their position as category kings in the sustainable packaging industry.

You can see how this innovative approach, built on a single strong niche ingredient, clearly provides them with a competitive advantage, allowing them to grow their mission and their impact. 

Their solid niche strategy allows them to thrive.

We need organizations like Cruz Foam to provide new and novel approaches to our problems. And their solid social impact niche strategy has positioned them to thrive and be category leaders in their business sector and broader impact ecosystem.

Make Your Own Mix

Examining these three examples provides a clearer picture of how integral your social impact niche is to your overall success and growth as an organization. 

All three of these successful social impact brands combined their own special ingredients together in an effective way, unique to them, and set themselves up for successful, sustainable growth. Their niche strategy on its own didn't create their success, but it definitely gave them each a major boost.

  • One Acre Fund’s niche combines: a clear audience, a unique point of view, and a clear operating model
  • STEM From Dance’s niche combines: a unique point of view, a clear audience, and a smart operating model
  • Cruz Foam’s niche: is built largely on top of their unique strength of material design and innovation

Take a look at the ingredients in our 8 Key Ingredients to Defining Your Social Impact Niche article. How many can you mix into your recipe to make your organization stand out to potential funders, donors, and advocates? Do you have a unique Theory of Change? A Particular Audience? A set of Differentiators that make you distinct?

We challenge you to discover the ingredients that elevate your brand and get people excited about your organization, cause, and mission.

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