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Achieving Relevance: Understanding and Connecting With Constituents

by Brandon Walsh  |  
March 16, 2010

Know whom you serve, and why they care.

Much more than just "your customers" or "your audience," your constituents are all the people for whom your work is meaningful—the internal and external populations whose interest, participation, and advocacy are important to your stability, growth, and long-term success.

Many of these people know you through your products, programs, and services—or because they're staff or volunteers—but some know you only through how you communicate and through the reviews, posts, tweets, and comments of others.

Whether you're a for-profit or nonprofit enterprise, your goal is to have relationships with your constituents—to move beyond transactions. But as your organization evolves and engages in more areas of endeavor (it's rare for a business to do one thing these days), the challenge is to start and nurture more relationships than ever before.

Doing so successfully requires that you have two-way conversations with your constituents—dialogues. It's not enough to push out communications from headquarters. To have conversations that are meaningful, you need to know who your constituents really are. You need to learn what they care about, what moves them, what keeps them up at night, how they like to be communicated with, and what your value to them is—or could be.

You're Not Monolithic; Neither Are Your Constituents

Like your organization, your constituents are not monolithic. They're complicated and multifaceted. And while articulating who you are and what you provide is very important, it's only part of the equation.

Organizations that are successful at maintaining varied relationships are skilled at understanding the individual brands of their different constituents, and at determining the corresponding "ways in" that meet people where they're coming from. The most fruitful conversations are based on shared values and expectations.

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Brandon Walsh is manager of strategy at Sametz Blackstone Associates (, a Boston-based brand-focused communications firm that integrates strategy, design, and technology to help evolving organizations navigate change. Reach him via, 617-266-8577, and @calmstock.

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