So who is our customer, anyway?

Fundraising, Nonprofit | 0 comments | by Sheri Hodde

For Mission Advancement, it’s nearly all nonprofit organizations … pretty easy answer, right? Think about your mission and vision statements: who the target of your mission is, who the staff and volunteers focus their efforts on. You come up with answers like the students who sit in the classrooms, or the person who is hungry or in need of what it is your mission provides. Well, in one sense you’re right. But in the fundraising sense, you are wrong!

All nonprofit organizations have two customers. The first customers are easy to identify; they are the ones on whom the most effort and energy is focused. They are the reason that your mission and organization exists. The second customers are almost always overlooked and, to some degree, taken for granted, even in the largest and most mature nonprofit organizations. The overlooked customers are the donors who fund your mission.

Now, first I want to ask the forgiveness of the reader for the terminology I am using in this article. Many nonprofits, appropriately so, go to great lengths to use a term more proper than “customers” to describe the beneficiaries of their missions and their generous donors. But for the sake of this article, please bear with me.

Who in your organization wakes up every morning, comes to work, and thinks about the needs of the second type of customer – the donor base? You may be quick to answer, “The development staff.” Again, you’d be right.

Sadly, in most nonprofits, the development staff is the only group that is thinking about the needs of the donor base.

The purpose of this article is not to wag my finger at you. When one considers how nonprofit missions come into being, it is only logical that this phenomenon is so prevalent. Put simply, the idea for a homeless shelter doesn’t start with a desire to raise money. It starts with a desire to help those most in need. Those involved in opening a homeless shelter are focused on how they can impact lives for good and give people a hand up to more productive and rewarding lives. It all begins with a vision for the mission. Somewhere along the way, it dawns on that visionary leader that this mission will require a lot of money.

One very important concept that all who are involved in nonprofit missions need to grasp is that it
always takes two customers
to make it
 work. Both
 customers
 must have
priority, attention and consideration from all who are involved in leading the mission. It is easy, and even intuitive, for a nonprofit organization to understand the needs of its first customer – but much more difficult to understand the needs of the second customer (the donor base). What do your donors need from you?

The quick answer is: more than a thank-you note or a call. Each donor gives for a reason. Donors all have needs and expectations. It is a relationship or their passions and interests that brought them to your mission. What do you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to communicate that each decision to give is a good decision?

The answer to that question will take us far beyond what I can include in this brief article. But it is the right question for the leadership of all nonprofit organizations to ponder. As you begin to plan for growth in your mission, consider taking some time at an all-staff and Board meeting to help everyone understand:

Your nonprofit organization has two different sets of customers.

Both sets of customers are vital to the success of your mission.

Each set has their own needs, and it is critical to understand those needs in order to appropriately address them.

The two customers need each other. The extent to which you can bring them together determines the extent to which you can transform both customers’ lives.

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