An important step in charity leadership recruitment processes is getting service users together to find out what the people who use the service need from a new executive leader.

Including service users in stakeholder sessions ensures the recruitment process is inclusive, comprehensive, and aligned with the needs and expectations of those an organisation serves — leading to better strategic alignment and improved customer satisfaction.

I recently attended a stakeholder session for the recruitment of a chief executive. Between interviews, the beneficiary group and I started discussing what they did when one of them told me that they didn’t like their name – ‘service users’.

When they asked for my advice on what else they could call their group, I referred the question to my vastly experienced team. They responded with the following suggestions: beneficiaries, clients, experts by experience, customers, survivors, participants, members, and ‘people we support’.

I must confess I liked some of these more than others, but it comes down to personal preference.

Why labels matter.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it since — what’s in a name? What does it say about the beneficiaries of a charity to be called service users? Does such language impact how outsiders view an organisation? And does it demonstrate their values and purpose accurately?

Thoughtful and deliberate use of language is a key part of genuine representation and engagement.

It also considers:

Respect and Dignity.

Respectful terminology acknowledges the individuality and humanity of the people receiving services, fostering a positive and empowering environment.

Certain terms can carry negative connotations or reinforce stereotypes and stigma. Using language free from prejudice helps reduce the stigma associated with receiving services — whether in healthcare, social services, or other areas.


Language can influence how service users perceive themselves and their role within the service provision. Using empowering terminology helps service users feel valued and encourages active participation in their care or service process, promoting a sense of agency.

Reflecting Values and Ethics.

Language and labelling reflect the values and ethics of the organisation. Consistently using appropriate terms underscores a commitment to ethical principles, aligning with an organisation’s standards and its mission.


Using inclusive language ensures that all service users regardless of their background, identity, or situation, feel welcomed and acknowledged. It promotes a more equitable and just environment where diversity is respected.

Building Trust.

Respectful and accurate language allows people to feel respected and understood. This will lead to honest and open engagement, opening the door to innovative ideas and honest communication.

A well-crafted recruitment process seeks to listen to the voices of all your stakeholders, your service users (clients, members, participants, beneficiaries, and so on) as the raison d’etre of your organisation.

So, it’s important to represent this group accurately to promote a two-way relationship built on respect, inclusivity and best practice.

When considering choosing which of the many monikers available, I would say just ask — ask the people you are talking about. It will create a more authentic service environment which is the start of effective co-production and an enhanced recruitment process.

P.S. At the time of going to press, the aforementioned Service Users Group have remained ‘service users’ — I’ll keep you posted!


Clare Chesworth is a Senior Consultant for our Not for Profit Practice. Clare is passionate about recruiting executive and board leaders for organisations tackling homelessness. With an empathetic and driven approach, Clare can find the right leaders to suit your mission. If you’d like to get in touch with her, you can connect with Clare on Linkedin or send her an email.