Season 1 - Episode 03

The ONE THING All Successful Social Impact Brands Get Right

What’s the one critical piece of your social impact strategy that you have to get right? Defining your social impact niche. 

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There’s one critical piece of your social impact strategy that you have to get right. 

When you don’t get it right, it holds back every facet of your growth and progress. 

We’ve seen it block and hinder revenue and fundraising. We’ve seen it create massive inefficiencies and reduce capacity. We’ve seen it negatively impact engagement, growth, and culture.

So, what is this one key thing?

It’s your social impact niche. 

Owning a social impact niche is a fundamental piece of your broader strategic plan and approach. 

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:  

  • The key ingredients to defining a social impact niche for your organization
  • Real-world examples of 3 different social impact brands that have nailed their niche, and how it’s helped them supercharge their growth and success
  • Key tips that you can use to define and own a niche for your own social impact mission




There’s one critical piece of your social impact strategy that you have to get right. But we see so many social impact brands miss the mark on this important element. 

And when they don’t get this part right, it holds every facet of their growth and progress back. 

We’ve seen it block and hinder revenue and fundraising.

We’ve seen it create massive inefficiencies and reduce capacity.

We’ve seen it negatively impact engagement, growth, and culture.

So, getting this right is really non negotiable. 

Once you look at the sector through this lens, you’ll begin to see how important it is to get this element of your strategy right.

And you’ll start to see how the top social impact brands all get this part right, even if they do it in wildly different ways. 

And look, there’s no silver bullet approach that you can copy and paste for your organization. And I don’t want to pretend that getting this part right is easy.

But this key insight does work for any social impact brand, regardless of your size, funding, or focus area. 

And when you do get it right, it can be the difference between slow, incremental progress, and massive, transformative change for your organization and your mission. 

So, what is this one key thing?

It’s your social impact niche. 

Owning a social impact niche is a fundamental piece of your broader strategic plan and approach. 

[Tooltip: Define and Own Your Social Impact Niche]

And in this episode, we’ll break down

  • The key ingredients to defining a social impact niche for your organization
  • Real-world examples of 3 different social impact brands that have nailed their niche, and how it’s helped them supercharge their growth and success
  • And key tips that you can use to define and own a niche for your own social impact mission

Let’s get to it.


Act 1:

Why is it that so many social impact brands fail to define and own a clear niche in the first place? 

Here’s where I think a lot of brands go wrong. They often actually start with a clear niche or point of view. 

Many times, it’s part of the origin story or founder’s story. They identify a problem and have a unique approach or solution to that problem. 

And they’re able to grow the organization out of its early stage and get some traction. They’re seeing some initial success, getting feedback from their community, learning, and experimenting.

But over time, as the organization grows, that initial spark or point of view, starts to dim. 

It might happen because you get a new grant that’s mostly aligned to your mission, but maybe not perfectly aligned. So you spin up a new program or small team to fulfill that grant. 

Or maybe the more you do your work, the more you see how it connects to larger systemic issues. And so you start to build more programs or products to address the broader problem. 

Or maybe you’re caught in a position where you need to grow revenue and hitting a ceiling there, so you move into nearby categories or launch new services in hopes of creating growth and opportunities.

But if these strategic shifts are not supported by a newly defined niche strategy, they can muddy the clarity of purpose and mission for your brand. 

The true power of defining a social impact niche is that it creates a meaningful distinction between you and other organizations in your broader social impact ecosystem. 

[Tooltip: Your Niche Creates a Meaningful Distinction]

And this distinction is what sets you apart. So you stand out in a way that earns attention, builds curiosity, and sets you up for deeper engagement, support, and success in all aspects of your work. 

So, how do you define your social impact niche? There’s no master recipe for creating your niche, but there are a few important ingredients that you should consider. 

  • Number 1: Your Audience: Who, exactly, do you help? And who do you not help?
  • Number 2: Your Unique Strengths: What specific skills or value can you bring to the world better than anyone else?
  • Number 3: Your Differentiators: What do you do differently than similar organizations in your social impact category?
  • Number 4: Your Point of View - Your distinct perspective about how the work you do should be done.
  • Number 5: Your Operating Model - How do you actually deliver your impact to the world?
  • Number 6: Your Revenue Model - How do you fund your impact? And how do you allocate those funds to your work?
  • Number 7: Your Scope: do you focus on a particular sector, category, or region? Or do you help create impact on a larger global scale?
  • Number 8: Your Theory of Change - How does your work actually create a meaningful impact and move humanity forward?

Just like making a delicious meal, there are practically limitless ways to define an ownable and scalable social impact niche. 

Any one of these ingredients can be differentiators for your mission. But it’s really the distinct blend of them working together holistically that creates your specific social impact niche. 


Act 2:

Now that we’ve covered the key ingredients you can use to define your niche, let’s explore a few real-world examples of social impact brands that have used their niche to supercharge their mission.

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.

And the name of this Organization is One Acre Fund.

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 3 that really stand out.

The first ingredient they leverage powerfully is Their Audience. 

[Tooltip: Ingredient 1: Their Audience]

One Acre Fund primarily assists 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 a meaningful impact at all. 

Helping a smaller niche community, but deeply, authentically helping them, can often create significantly more overall impact than helping a larger group, but not really helping them all that much. 

The second key ingredient they leverage is their Operating & Revenue Model. 

[Tooltip: Ingredient 2: Operating & Revenue]

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 and 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. And 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.

The third, and possibly the most important ingredient in their niche, is their Point of View.

[Tooltip: Ingredient 3: Their POV]

There are many other agriculture-focused nonprofits across the globe, but One Acre Fund has a distinct Point of View 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. 

This view is distinct to their organization. 

You can see how these 3 ingredients work together in a powerful, synergistic way to help One Acre Farm stand out from other nonprofits in their broader category of sustainable agriculture. 

Our second example combines two ingredients you might not think go together well, like Pickles on a Peanut Butter Sandwich. (try it)

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.

[Tooltip: 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? I can’t.

Building on this point of view, they’re second ingredient comes in with a Specific Audience.

[Tooltip: Ingredient 2: A Well-Defined 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%.

Their third key ingredient is their Operating Model.

[Tooltip: Ingredient 3: Their 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 1. 

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, and this boldness has earned them well-deserved success in a difficult category.  

Our third example shows that sometimes, owning a niche can be accomplished with a single ingredient recipe. 

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 our best estimates. 

Even as a new and growing startup, their 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.

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 recipe that Cruz Foam 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. 

[Tooltip: Ingredient 1: A Single Unique Strength]

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. 

We need organizations like Cruz Foam to provide new and novel approaches to our problems, and their solid niche strategy has allowed them to thrive in their broader social impact ecosystem.

Examining these 3 examples gives us 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.


Act 3:

We’ve outlined the key ingredients for defining your social impact niche and looked at how 3 very different social impact organizations have captured a niche to build their brands.

Now let’s talk about how you can take these concepts and apply them to your social impact organization. Here’s a few key tips to get you started. 

Start with the Ingredients.

The key ingredients we outlined earlier in the episode are a great starting point for defining your niche. Again, you don’t need to use all of the ingredients to create your niche. And sometimes, less is more here. Just like with cooking, the ratio of ingredients that you leverage can make or break your results. 

Include your broader team and community. 

Soliciting input from your broader team, supporters, and community is important to ensure that you don’t end up moving into a niche that doesn’t pan out. Of course, your leadership team needs to champion your niche throughout the organization to ensure there is team-wide alignment and execution. But make sure you don’t just think about this as a top-down decision. 

Make sure the time is right. 

It’s often best to integrate this work into larger strategic planning processes or times of growth or pivots. This is often work that should be done when you’re looking to break through to the next level, or if you’re feeling stuck or like you're spinning in place rather than growing and progressing toward your mission. 

Define how you’ll measure success.

Be sure to set some specific goals and success metrics for evaluating any shifts you make when evolving your niche. This doesn’t need to be approached in a rigorously scientific way, but you’ll at least want to set some clear benchmarks to determine if you're moving in the right direction.

Remember your niche is forward-facing.

This work should not be siloed to strategic planning. Your niche should inform and inspire outward-facing branding, content, and storytelling from your organization. Clearly communicating the key ingredients that make up your niche is a very effective way to help frame your impact story and mission to potential funders, your internal team, and your broader community. Reinforce different ingredients of your niche in your ongoing content and campaigns. Show your community how these ingredients help advance your cause. 

Don’t just set it and forget it.

Organizations evolve, and so do their niches. You should be assessing the key ingredients in your niche at least once a year. Even if you don’t make any big shifts, you’ll want to check-up on whether your niche is helping you stand out or starting to feel a bit crowded by other similar organizations. 

Expect this work to be difficult.

Niche work is hard work. And it can lead to having to make some challenging decisions. It might even result in sunsetting programs, reducing or reallocating staff and resources, and other major implications for your daily operations. 

These tips should get you well on your way to defining and owning a unique niche within your broader social impact ecosystem. 



Today, we explored how defining, owning, and operationalizing your social impact niche can multiply your impact and power your growth. 

Defining your audience, your unique strengths and differentiators, your point of view, your operating and revenue model, your scope, and your theory of change give you a solid foundation of ingredients you can combine to create your own unique niche recipe.

From One Acre Fund's transformative work in Africa, to STEM From Dance’s daring approach, to Cruz Foam's innovative solution to sustainability, we've seen firsthand the power a well-defined niche can unlock for social impact brands. 

These stories are not meant to be just inspirational—they're a call to action. They challenge us to look deeply at our own missions, to refine our focus, and to boldly claim our own space in the broader social impact ecosystem.

Because when we focus on what we do best, there's no limit to the impact we can create.

Here's to defining your niche, to standing out, and to reaching your true impact potential. 


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