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What Members Really Want: Define Your Minimum Viable Outcomes

What Members Really Want: Define Your Minimum Viable Outcomes

For-profit companies have it easy. Their purpose is clear cut: make money. But what about not-for-profits and associations? Profit isn't your measure of success.

Instead of measuring success on profit and revenue, measure your association's success on outcomes -- the clear, measurable results that your organization achieves in the community.

Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!

People buy outcomes:


  • Solve a problem
  • Complete a task or project
  • Gain sustenance
  • Be entertained


What outcomes does your association deliver?

Minimum Viable Outcomes Focus Your Brand

A Minimum Viable Outcome (MVO) is the basic outcome your association can deliver. Returning to Theodore Levitt's drill analogy, the quarter-inch hole is the drill bit's MVO.

In a not-for-profit, working towards MVOs can replace profit as a measure of success. You are selecting clear, tangible outcomes of service. For instance, I am on the CODE board of directors. CODE is an NGO focused on advancing literacy and girls education, both being complex problems.

The forces working to prevent children from learning to write and read are daunting; there isn't a single tool or answer to solve the problem of global literacy. As a result, organizations like CODE are constantly stretched to serve a need that is greater than their reach and resources. That pull can be highly problematic for several reasons:


  • The most obvious problem is that of being stretched too thin -- a Jack of all trades is the master of none.
  • An unfocused brand. The more issues and projects the organization takes on the harder it becomes to communicate the brand and its mission.
  • Fractured funding models. Members and donors gravitate towards clear causes with clear outcomes. The more complex the organization becomes, the harder it is to fund.


The MVO process provides clarity to combat the negative pull of a complex problem:


  • What does the market really want and need? (Related to the expertise and capabilities of your organization.)
  • What is the smallest measurable outcome you can deliver to address that need?
  • Why is that outcome important or valuable to the target market?
  • Does the target market recognize and value that outcome? If not, what outcomes does the market value?



Complex problems often generate multiple Minimum Viable Outcomes, which is a core value of the exercise. Clarifying the potential outcomes your association can respond to will help determine where your brand plays and how it wins.

Coming back to CODE, the overarching outcome of literacy is for children to learn to read and write. Doing so can secure their future success by helping them get a job, escape poverty, or help educate their families in turn. A Minimum Viable Outcome of advancing literacy could be educating the next generation by training teachers.

Training teachers to spread literacy is only one path. CODE can consider multiple MVOs, and determine different routes to deliver on its literacy objectives. This understanding helps CODE to both challenge and clarify its mission. It can't do it all, but with laser-like focus it is achieving measurable results to advance literacy.


Discover Your Association's MVOs

You can push your association further by focusing on your members and their needs. By defining their Minimum Viable Outcomes, you have an opportunity to innovate around a defined need. This helps you to narrow your association's focus and use your limited resources with purpose.


What do Your Members Want?

Start big. In an ideal world, what do your members really want and need? Get the ultimate outcome down on paper. Once you've documented the ultimate outcome, push the concept by asking, “What's the next best thing?” Keep asking this question until you arrive at a set of clear, tangible outcomes your members will value. These are your Minimum Viable Outcomes.

Understanding your members' MVOs opens up so many possibilities. It helps you clarify where your association plays, the problems it solves, and how it wins. And that process is all anchored on your members and their needs. That clarity of focus will help make your association become even more relevant and sustainable.



Jeremy Miller is a brand strategist, keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of Sticky Branding. He helps companies develop brilliant strategies to market their businesses and grow their brands. As an inspirational keynote speaker, his blend of humor, stories, and actionable ideas will inspire you to innovate and grow a Sticky Brand. He can be reached at www.stickybranding.com.






Jeremy Miller, Membership, Leadership


Membership, Guest Contributor, Governance / Leadership



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