Putting aside for a moment whether we should call them “target audiences” or not, it’s always good to remember that, as a nonprofit communicator or fundraiser, you are very rarely the kind of person that you are trying to communicate with. Even if you match the demographics, the fact that you are employed by your cause sets you apart in major ways from those who are not. Therefore, what you personally think about your fundraising letter, or your e-newsletter’s design, or what so-and-so wants to put on your nonprofit’s Facebook page is not nearly as important as what the people on the receiving end will think about it.
Always, always, always do your best to put yourself in their shoes. It’s tough. It takes research, and listening, and practice. But you can do it. And when you have people around you who are a closer match than you are to that kind of supporter, listen and trust your peers, even if they have less nonprofit experience than you do.
Take, for example, the case of a small nonprofit that is thinking about hosting a fundraiser that will appeal to younger African-American women, as this is a demographic that the group would like to be able to connect with more for numerous reasons, including advocacy, education, and fundraising. This particular organization is blessed to have younger African-American women on its board of directors who are chairing this event.
Now, there are several others on the board who are not members of this target audience, primarily white men and women of various ages, most significantly older. Some are questioning whether this event makes sense at all. Will anyone come? Are we charging the right amount? Does the program make sense? In a nutshell, they are worried, because they can’t see themselves or anyone they spend much time with attending this event. They are afraid.
Should that matter? Should it affect the decisions that are made about the event?
All too often, I think it does end up mattering, and entirely too much. I think well-meaning but ultimately culturally clueless people end up squashing the marketing and fundraising ideas of people who are actually much closer to those target audiences — ideas that could work really well were they given the full support of the organization.
In this case, I would argue (and have in the real life version of this scenario) that it’s better to trust the judgement of people who are closest to the target audience to make the big decisions. Certainly there are lots of tactical and logistical questions where age and experience are extremely helpful, and those words of wisdom should always be shared. But on the big, core decisions about an event or a marketing campaign, I’d say empower the people who are most like — or who have invested enough of themselves to truly understand — those you are trying to reach.