The Wrong Client

Most nonprofits are open to accepting any client; however, being selective is better.

Nonprofits justify their openness because:

Their services should be available to all in need

They have the capacity to serve more clients

Additional income is important

The marginal cost of another client is insignificant compared to the relative profitability of the additional client

Being selective feels like discrimination

Nonprofits will turn away some clients because of certain criteria, but even then it is a difficult decision. Paradoxically, tightening the standards for admission is better for all (the mission, clients, staff, donors, etc.).

For the purposes of this article, let us think about success as being the fulfillment of the promises of your mission statement. If every client achieved the success of the top 25% of your clients, how would that change your reputation in the community? What would the impact of your nonprofit be on your community if instead of having a few successful clients, you had 100% of your clients achieving at the level of the top 25% of today’s clients?

With your current mix of clients, it is impossible to replicate the success of the top 25%. However, you know your staff has the skills to achieve universal success with the right mix of clients. If your nonprofit was filled with clients like your top 25%, you know your staff is capable of achieving so much more. One thing holding your nonprofit back from overwhelming success is the right mix of clients.

What is the profile of your most successful clients? What are the attributes you associate with success? What are the attributes your clients associate with success? What does your nonprofit do to foster those attributes?  Would a different mix of clients make it easier to achieve success?

Next Step:

Profile your most successful clients

Determine the clients that your nonprofit is well equipped to serve

Focus your nonprofit’s attention on excelling at attracting and serving that special group of clients

Help the donors understand the value (to your clients and community) of supporting your new focus

Begin now, and this time next year, the number of clients you serve in 2014 will increase. The new emphasis will increase client engagement. Your staff will be thrilled because you are giving them permission to do what they can excel at rather that constraining them to try to meet the needs of an overly broad array of clients. Focusing on a narrow band of clients will also strengthen your mission and deliver on the promises made by your mission. You can broaden the profile of the clients served next year but only if you have been able to achieve a much higher level of success and can envision how to serve a broader group without diluting success.

Someone may endorse the idea but suggest that it will be better to wait until your nonprofit achieves capacity before risking implementation. If so, it is important to remember that what you have been doing for a number of years has yet to fill your underutilized capacity. Without making a significant change, reaching capacity is likely to remain an aspiration with little hope of becoming a reality.

Focusing on what your nonprofit is good at (a select group of individuals) will enhance your nonprofit’s reputation, improve client outcomes, and increase capacity utilization.


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