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Board Essentials: Part 5: Hearing Our Customers

Fall of 2010, I did a Board Essentials series on nonprofit governance.

Opening with “Parameters” that govern how nonprofits operate, I moved on the “Roles” of Board members, “Strategic Work” of Boards, and wrapped up with how Board members can “Engage Networks” to help advance the nonprofit they care most about.

This year, the series will focus on the nonprofit’s marketplace: where and how staff and volunteers find and work with its customers.

And let’s start this off in listening mode.  Of course, we’ll have messages we want to communicate. We’ll have a brand to uphold. Our nonprofit will articulate goals and strategies to move our mission forward and we’ll want to let our friends, supporters, stakeholders know what all this is.  But first and foremost, we must listen.

What floats the boat of our donors?  What has motivated them to give to our cause in the past?  What is the special value we’re bringing to our clients?  Or, as Peter Drucker would instruct us: our Primary Customers.  What are we delivering that keeps bringing them back to us for service? That makes them want to tell the story for us?  That earns the support of their families to our cause?  Let’s first and foremost hear what our customers have to say to us.   And let us reflect those messages they have for us back in our words to our target audiences about mission, values, goals, brand….clearly, succinctly.

The better we hear, the better response we’ll get back from our primary (client) customers and supporting (donors, volunteers) customers.


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