What happens when your audience's needs aren't at the centre of your thinking

I will never stop believing, or probably saying that, whichever audience(s) we serve as organisations, their needs should underpin our thinking and actions.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t seek to achieve our own objectives – of course we should.  The customer / supporter / volunteer is not always right and we have our own targets to meet.


What it does mean is that we must find ways to get what we want from the relationships with our target audiences by delivering what they need and expect from us.  This isn’t mercenary, it’s how it works across every sector and at every level from 1:1 relationships right up to international cooperation.

I was therefore interested to read the story this week of a Blackpool hospice which had spent £50,000 of its general funds on artwork for a new chapel.  A vociferous group of its supporters took umbrage at hard-earned funds being spent this way and complained directly to the Charity Commission.  A Facebook page was also set up to show their displeasure and attracted 170 members (as at 24/02/10).

The hospice isn’t the first charity to make a well-intentioned investment on behalf of its beneficiaries that wasn’t well-received by those beneficiaries.  And it won’t be the last.  And businesses can fall foul just as easily, in case you think this is a not-for-profit issue.  The key point is that the ensuing media coverage, uncomfortable conversations (or egg-on-face) and impact on fundraising could have been avoided if the decision-makers were armed with real-world knowledge about what their target audiences expect and need.

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I don’t wish to sound like a broken record but as insiders, it really isn’t our opinion that counts.  If we don’t know what our audiences want, how can we hope to successfully achieve our objectives by delivering it?

At some point this kind of event will happen to many organisations so here are a few thoughts on what to do to avoid, prepare and ideally circumvent any problems:

What else would you add?  Do you think it’s inevitable that because we can’t please all of the people all of the time, we should expect complaints and simply deal with them proactively?