The Forgotten Audicence

A Nonprofit’s Guide to Communications with Their Most Important Stakeholder

True or false? Clients are the forgotten audience of almost every nonprofit’s communications strategy. 

True, I say.

Now you might reply, “But, that’s the whole reason we communicate with our audience is so that we can serve our clients!”

My question is, have you ever stopped to ask your clients how they want to be spoken about or how they’d like to be referred to? In everything from the pronouns they use to whether they prefer to be described as:

“between housing” or “homeless” 

“needy” or “currently in need of xyz” 

“teen mom” or “young mom” 

“at-risk” or “opportunity”

Clients are the forgotten audience of many nonprofit’s communications strategies for two reasons: 

  1. We believe we’re already serving them
  2. We focus our outward facing communications on donors to keep our missions alive

As marketers and fundraisers, there is a constant tug to serve the donor, to make the mission palatable and relatable to them so that they’ll provide the resources to serve the clients. Arguably, without them, there would be no nonprofit, no mission, and no service. And, it can also be said that without attracting clients there would also be no need for donors because there’d be no one to serve.

So why then do we not focus equal amounts of attention on these audiences?

It’s simply a communication breakdown and lack of strategy, time, and resources.

In most nonprofits, client communications happen within the nonprofits program and with their direct service staff. Those rich conversations and interaction usually never make it to the marketing and fundraising departments. They can though, with the right tools and strategy in place.

“The fact is that every nonprofit institution has three indispensable “customers”: the clients it serves, the donors who support it, and the volunteers or staff members who help get the work done. The failure to serve any one, while tolerable in the short run, will sooner or later undermine its survival.” – Mark R. Kramer, The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Tools like an informed consent practice help you get the rich conversations with client’s and direct service staff that you may not otherwise get. They give you the chance to ask client’s questions about who they are, how they speak about themselves, and how they’d like others to talk about them too. 

In practicing informed consent marketers can get those key phrases and words to include in their nonprofits communications strategy to attract more clients and leverage the interest in the programs they offer in their appeals to donors.

An informed consent practice also fosters greater communication between direct service staff and the marketing and fundraising staff. Marketers and fundraisers are able to build trust with direct service staff by taking the burden of producing client stories off of their plates. And through informed consent they are showing interest in producing the best possible representation of their clients, not just producing for the pony show. This shared responsibility for a client’s long-term well-being supports both the mission and internal culture of the nonprofit, thus serving the third nonprofit audience, internal staff, as well.

While there are millions of hits for how to get donors’ attention and gifts, there is hardly anything out there about how to market to people who could benefit from your programs. 

What you say, how you say it, and where you say it, are the key factors in any communications strategy. Don’t leave your client’s out of the picture, because if you do you’ll be losing a key piece of leverage in your fundraising efforts. Without clients waiting at the door to get into your programs, your position with your donors weakens (why fund a program no one wants or isn’t using to max capacity?). If you have clients eagerly waiting to get in, then that’s leverage you can use to raise more funds! 

Adding clients as a key audience in your communications strategy will take additional time and resources, but it’s well worth the effort. Look at what is and isn’t working in your communications strategy now and make adjustments accordingly. Prioritize your clients and potential clients as a key audience and further strengthen your mission! 

Now, I’d love to hear from you, comment back to let me know if you are: 

  1. Already treating your clients as a key communications audience?
  2. Not if you’re not, what’s stopping you?