What’s in a Name? Probably, Your Future Job

In the nonprofit and government agency universe, there is an interesting variety of terms used to describe the individuals being served by a human or social services program. I’ve found that job-seekers wishing to enter this field need to do careful research so they can understand the culture of the organization they are aiming to work for, paying particular attention to what the beneficiaries of the programs are called. Each term has a potential to be frowned upon by those with other perspectives, and to call your clients the wrong thing can mark you as someone who doesn’t understand the organization’s culture–or worse, looks down upon the clients. Here’s a list of terms I’ve seen:

* Clients
* Participants
* Customers
* Consumers
* Students
* Fellows
* Beneficiaries
* Grantees
* Vulnerable adults
* Members
* Individuals with (disabilities; barriers to entry; etc.)
* Low-income individuals
* “At-risk” kids
* Youth
* Disconnected youth
* Homeless
* Chronic public inebriates
* Dual-diagnosis

What are clients called in your agency? What do you think it reflects on your organization’s culture and values? What can job-seekers learn about the organization’s philosophy by what it calls its clients?

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