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The Building Blocks of a Client-First Attitude

COMMUNITY SERVICES

What is a client-first attitude and how do you cultivate one at a nonprofit? Let’s take a look. 

As an organization that serves vulnerable people in crisis, each person we seek to serve is referred to as a client. 

Our clients come in many shapes, sizes, and forms. Some of our clients are individuals struggling with mental health. Others are Veterans or families in need of housing or victims of natural disasters. Still, others are people with disabilities seeking employment or migrant children looking to be reunified with their parents

But no matter the name, background, and status of the client we’re working with, our staff seeks to approach each one with a client-first attitude. 

According to Endeavors COO Chip Fulghum, the definition of this attitude is simple. 

“When we say client-first, it means just that: We’re putting the client’s needs above those of the organization’s and doing everything we can to get them back to better and back on their feet,” Fulghum said. 

Having a client-first attitude originates from our core values of care and compassion.

“When you’re trying to put yourself in the client’s shoes, you’re able to have empathy and provide a more compassionate and a more caring approach,” he said.

Success Starts With the Client

Cultivating a client-first attitude starts with putting yourself and your own expectations aside. If you’re going to truly pay attention to the needs and wants of the client, you have to make sure you’re checking your own motives, biases, and expectations at the door. 

Ana Zendejas, Lead Safe Services Therapist at Endeavors, says that it’s important to examine yourself before meeting with a client. “We really need to be aware of our own biases because they can really get in the way of how we interact with others,” she said. 

No matter how well-meaning, it can even be harmful to project your own personal definition of success onto a client. 

“If you come into a client meeting saying, ‘This is what I think that you need. This is how we’re going to solve it,’ the client will likely shut down,” she said. “It’s important to let them define success for themselves.” 

Listening Will Show You the Real Story

Once you’ve let go of your own expectations, the stage is set for a client-first attitude. Now, it’s time to sit down with the client and really listen. 

When you engage in active and reflective listening, you’re able to really begin to understand the client, their needs, and their real goals. 

It’s crucial to let the client lead the conversation. It’s both empowering to the client and also informative—instead of treating the symptoms, you’re able to go straight to the root of what is really going on.

“We currently have a mom in one of our supportive housing programs who has a really hard time with parenting,” said Zendejas. “So we’ve been meeting her where she’s at—slowly skill-building based on her personal goals. It’s ultimately so rewarding because we’re not just getting her housed, we’re making sure she has tools that will last a lifetime.”  

For clients, it’s empowering when they are able to reach the goals they set themselves. 

“A sense of success is crucial, and knowing they did it themselves is amazing,” she said. “I love when kids come up to us and say, “I did this today,” and they are so excited, or when their moms say, ‘Oh, I finally was able to qualify for food stamps.’” 

Building Trust Is Crucial 

Besides genuinely addressing the goals of the client, this client-first attitude also helps build trust. 

“It’s important to make people feel heard. Building that trust and rapport is key,” said Zendejas. “Once they start to feel heard and feel safe, they’ll start to break down some of those walls and barriers and really start building a great relationship with their case manager.” 

This sense of trust is a huge deal, especially for those who have gone through traumatic and abusive situations and relationships. 

“Many of our clients have been taken advantage of in the past,” said Fulghum. “Oftentimes, they come to us at one of the lowest points in their lives, and we’re asking them to trust that we’ll be able to help them get back on their feet and get back to better.”

Client Satisfaction Is Key 

Our focus is on sustainable, real results, not quick fixes. To measure our success in this area, we keep our eyes on client satisfaction. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the work that we did for migrant families as they were going through the asylum process,” said Fulghum. 

We surveyed every client every week and asked them to rate us on a scale of 1 to 5. As we finished that program, our ratings were around 4.96. 

“When we hear clients tell us stories about how we have aided in their recovery, that’s the ultimate measure for us as an organization,” said Fulghum. “I’ve seen countless examples across our programs where staff go above and beyond. And to me, that’s really what you are talking about when we say ‘client-first.’ Our folks come to work and serve every client like it’s the only client we have.”


​​About Endeavors 

Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit www.endeavors.org

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