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Shining a Light on Privilege: Your Donor is Not Your Customer

by | May 21, 2020 | Discoveries

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When I ask folks who work with purpose-driven organizations to think about who their customers are, I occasionally get questions like, “Aren’t you talking about beneficiaries?”

This is what goes through my mind when I hear that term: For someone to be the beneficiary, someone else has to be the benefactor. By extension we have a donor and a receiver.

Benefactor – Beneficiary

Donor – Receiver

The language of benefactor-beneficiary reinforces an established power structure. That misaligned structure is perpetuated by the notion that purpose-driven organizations are beholden to those whose money is invested to deliver on a shared commitment, a promise to impact lives through mission. This thought pattern inappropriately elevates a donor to customer status. Consequently, mindset informs action, and suddenly, we have mission drift. The proclivity to “follow the money” derails us from our differentiation efforts.  

Another power dynamic at play is privilege. Advantage is unintentionally reinforced by thousands of people – executives, consultants, and foundations – trained in this same habit of thought. If we are truly committed to equity, diversity, inclusion, and access, then we need to shine a bright light on language that inadvertently supports privilege.

Your donor is not your customer. Here are a few examples to guide your thinking about your customer

  • A school’s mission directly impacts students.
  • An animal shelter’s mission directly impacts adoptive families.
  • An after-school teen center’s mission directly impacts teenagers.

These examples illustrate the clear connection between customer and mission impact.

Who does your mission directly impact? The answer leads you to clarity of customer.

Perhaps we rail against the word customer because it leaves us wondering who we are. We don’t think of ourselves as merchants or vendors; the terms don’t do us justice. How about this?

Benefactor – Beneficiary

Donor – Receiver

Purpose-Driven Organization – Customer

Your purpose-driven organization is committed to delivering mission impact to your customers. Your donors are integral to delivering on that shared promise.

Adopting a costumer mindset helps me make sense of it all. Mastery of thought leads to calling the question and honoring strategic direction in service to your mission and customer.

If you’d like to learn more about the power of customer mindset, and its ability to help you focus on differentiation rather than succumb to power imbalances or mission drift, then take advantage of our free webinar.

I hope you’ll join me in creating change. 

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