Defining Your Target Population


Organizations need to be clear about their target populations and know the demographics of their constituencies in comparison to the larger community.

For example, a target population could be all of the people in an organization's local community, everyone in the state, or people living at or below the poverty level within a given community.

After clearly defining its constituency, an organization can evaluate whether or not it serves all racial/ethnic groups within that constituency proportionately.

For example, a fictional nonprofit human services agency's mission is to provide health insurance to local families who are without health insurance. Fifty percent of people without health insurance in the local community are white, 25 percent are Latino, 15 percent are African American, 5 percent are Native American, and the other

Defining a target population isn't always as easy as it sounds, especially for organizations serving groups rather than individual clients.

For example, cultural organizations may have difficulty defining their target audiences. Is a symphony's target audience everyone in the local community?  Or is it people with middle and upper incomes who can easily afford symphony tickets? Or is it individuals who identify themselves as appreciators of the arts?

Sometimes organizations aren't as successful as they could be because they restrict the definition of "constituency" to a group that is small and narrowly defined. On the other hand, an overly broad definition can cause an organization to lose focus.

A research report published by The Denver Foundation in 2003 identified that a significant barrier to inclusiveness for organizations was an internal perception that the mission of an organization did not appeal to communities of color.(Pease, Katherine & Associates, Inside Inclusiveness: Race, Ethnicity, and Nonprofit Organizations. The Denver Foundation, July, 2003) The report provided a case study example of a Denver-based arts organization that was not very inclusive of communities of color. Analysis uncovered that the leadership of this organization believed that the particular art form in which they work was not usually interesting to communities of color. Therefore, it has focused on a target audience of people who consistently support mainstream arts institutions, most of whom are white. As a result, the organization's leadership was skeptical that efforts to create a more inclusive organization would serve to broaden its audience. However, a significant portion of the artists who work with this organization are people of color. Given the difference between the demographics of the audience and the demographics of the artists, this group may want to examine its assumption about its audience and develop strategies to attract a broader constituency.

Changing any significant element of an organization's work will only happen over time, and broadening an organization's constituency is no exception. In most cases, financial and other constraints will prevent an organization from rapidly transforming its constituency, especially when it relies on fee-for-service programs.

For the arts organization described above, it would be unrealistic and undesirable for the organization to stop meeting the programming needs of its long-time supporters who are mostly white. To do so would negatively affect the organization's bottom line and unnecessarily alienate a group of people who should continue to enjoy the benefits of this organization's work.

The point, then, is not to leave behind current constituencies, but also to reach out to new constituencies among communities of color. Doing so, at least initially, may take different strategies.

One way to understand constituencies and their relationship to communities of color is to make a diagram that illustrates your core and peripheral constituencies and the constituencies with whom you would like to expand your work.

Ring 1: Primary Constituents - These are individuals and groups who currently use your programs and services on a regular basis.

Ring 2: Secondary Constituents - These are individuals and groups who occasionally use your programs and services.

Ring 3: Potential Constituents - These are individuals and groups whom you would like to have use your programs and services. These individuals would have a compelling reason to access your programs and services if they understood your organization better and/or if your organization provided culturally relevant programs.

Generally speaking, the goal for most organizations is to move constituents from Ring 3 to Ring 2, and ultimately to Ring 1. Of course, this is a simplified way of looking at things. However, as you develop strategies to create a more inclusive organization, it can be useful to identify methods to move individuals and groups toward becoming primary and secondary constituents.


Overview: Programs and Constituents  

Tracking and Evaluating How Constituents Use Your Programs 

Examples of Impact of Inclusiveness on Program Effectiveness 

Approaches to Program Design 

Creating More Inclusive Programs and More Diverse Constituents 

     Developing Partnerships with Others Who Have Cultural Competence in Your Field 

     Asking Constituents for Suggestions 

     Creating a Programs/Constituents Advisory Board 

     Finding a Mentor