Let’s Confuse Constituents!

signpost forest

I recently came across a great blog post from Dave Brock entitled “Let’s See How Much We Can Confuse Our Customers!” In it, Dave examines the dangers of building a “Go To Market Strategy” from an “inside-out” point of view. In many ways, what he observes is right in line with discussions regarding “donor-centricity” and provides some good insights to help organizations evaluate how they work so that they can generate and nurture good relationships with their constituents.

In his example, Dave’s subject is a company with multiple, similar product lines. Each of these is being managed and marketed by disparate teams. Customers are receiving different messaging and sales pitches from different segments of the same company. The result is confusion and uncertainty regarding the buying process, which ultimately leads many customers to purchase from another vendor.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking that this is not at all dissimilar to a nonprofit organization in which fundraising is managed separately from membership, which is managed separately from programming, which is managed separately from volunteers. Your constituent doesn’t know or care that various activities are managed by different teams within the organization. You want to make it easy for him to support the organization in whatever ways make the most sense to him, and you want to be sure that he hears the organization speaking with one clear voice regardless of how he is engaging with it.

Imagine this scenario. A constituent made a donation to your organization two years ago; she has not donated since. But, she sends her kids to camp every year and purchases gift memberships for family members. Imagine how that constituent will feel if she receives a generic request for donation from the fundraising team that doesn’t acknowledge her connection to programming or membership. I know if I were her, I would feel unacknowledged and unappreciated and would not be inclined to make the requested donation OR renew membership the following year. If there were greater organizational transparency, and if the silos were working in concert, then this type of unfortunate mistake could easily be avoided. It doesn’t mean that the fundraising team can’t ask this constituent for a donation; what it means is that her current involvement needs to be acknowledged and praised before making that ask.

There are many ways in which the structure of the organization rather than consideration of the constituent’s perspective might dictate communications or activities. For example, perhaps systems limitations mean a donor has to generate multiple transactions if he wants to purchase a membership and make a donation. Perhaps lack of cross-functional communication means one constituent receives multiple mailings, each with a different call to action. Regardless of the reason(s), impediments to engagement or giving need to be removed.

This quote from Dave’s blog is particularly relevant:


“Our customers are not just buying a product. They’re buying a relationship with our company. They want to look at our companies, understanding what the total relationship is. They want to see consistency across all parts of the company; they want to see how the various pieces/parts fit together.”


Likewise, nonprofit constituents are not just buying a membership or giving a donation; they are building a relationship with an organization that is pursuing a mission they care about. They want to see consistency and coordinated effort in pursuit of that mission. If they feel that efforts are scattered or that the organization is fractured, they may well feel that their money and time will be better utilized somewhere else.