Nearly every charity has two distinct, different types of customer. 

This reality is one of the major differences between marketing for a nonprofit, versus a consumer packaged goods company or other corporation. It is also a common blind spot for marketers who come from the corporate side into non-profit marketing roles, and can lead to an erosion of brand and trust as one customer set can easily and unintentionally be pushed to the side.

And yes, if you’re reading this and come from the the traditional school of marketing thought you’re probably saying, “No, Geoff. You always have just one main customer.” Please keep reading, I think you’ll see what I mean.

The article linked HERE highlights this struggle through a story about the World Vision program in Kosovo, but I have also seen this struggle first hand in places I have served like Compassion International and Operation Mobilisation. My reflection here is not about the content of the program. My wife serve alongside World Vision’s program in both Kosovo and Albania so I know well the incredible work they do in those places. Instead, this is about the struggle of messaging with love, honesty, and dignity when two customer types are always in play.

So, who are the two customers?

One customer provides the funds/resources to keep things running. These are individuals who give one time or on some sort of reoccurring basis. This also includes more corporate style resourcing such as that provided by a business, church, foundation, etc.

The other customer is the one who receives the benefit of the NGO or charity’s program. This is the person who is almost always the face of the program, the hungry person needing food, the refugee needing asylum, etc.

Charity’s providing support or services without a long-term relationship with those benefiting from the program must, like all, ensure they highlight the beneficiary with dignity and respect. They need to keep this view of the beneficiary in consideration but should be primarily concerned with crafting messages and tactics to maximize relationships and revenue with the donors who keep the lights on and the programs running.

This reality changes when the goal is relationship and on-going support or services of the beneficiary customer as well as with the donor customer. Child sponsorship programs are a perfect example of this. In these cases the messaging equation looks very different, especially as the digital reality of the world these days makes it easy for both customers to see the messages and tactics intended for the other.

The ideal message in these circumstances is one that builds a bridge between both customers, finds the common ground, and values both costumers equally. This is not easy, but messaging research with both customer sets can give you a hint at the right direction.

It can also be helpful to reevaluate who your customer is on both ends. Does your charity work directly with the end customer on both ends? Or do you work through an intermediary agency or entity that is actually the face of the program in a certain country or context? If so, perhaps they are your customer as opposed to the program beneficiary. If they are, does your messaging on both sides reflect that reality, or does it try to take credit for the work they do on your behalf? For example, if your ‘on-the-ground’ program is run by the local church, does your messaging give all the credit to the local church and what God is doing through them? Or do you claim it as your own?

It’s a complex dynamic, but as with all messaging we win big when we start with transparency and honoring well the people on all sides.