My colleague, Shoshana Fanizza, posted an interesting analogy in her blog, Specials for What They BuyShoshana specializes in audience development for theatres and performing arts, but her insights are definitely relevant to more than cultural institutions.

Her point is that grocery stores and stores like Target send you coupons for what you are most likely to use, based on past purchases. Why can’t venues use their databases of attendees and subscribers to pinpoint specific audiences for special attention?

It made me think about boards and their audiences. While cultural institutions can mine their databases for ‘likes,’ many nonprofit organizations can’t just go to their records and see who likes what, not to mention those potential clients whom you’ve yet to touch. But that doesn’t mean that the concept of knowing your audience has no validity.

Do you know your audience?

How well do organizations really know who their audiences / clients / targets / constituents are? How well do we know what their interests are, or what will be most useful to them (remember, we started with targeted coupons)?  

In program evaluation, we are thankfully spending more time looking at impact than merely counting participants. Yet we are still often measuring things which matter to third parties, not necessarily what is important to the constituents themselves. We measure that students graduate from college and are employed. But does that person end up with debt? Does that person end up with a job that doesn’t pay as well as one she could have gotten with a 2-year certificate in plumbing? Maybe she’d rather be working with her hands.

Co-creation of programs requires not just offering ideas and getting feedback from constituents. It means bringing them in at the beginning of any effort, and asking, what is it that you want your life to be like? and what will it take for that to actually become reality?  Developing ways to measure your impact means working with constituents to determine meaningful benchmarks.

Then, when you know this, you can offer more like it.

Really knowing your constituents – your “audience” – allows you to effectively tailor your programs and collaborations  to their true interests.

Surely, that’s at least as important as knowing when they need to buy more paper towels.