Conference Roundup: Managing Angry Donors
A less than stellar charity rating … getting blasted in a blog … or, maybe, a CEO that gets caught in a scandal. Any of these situations are bound to leave an organization’s phones ringing with calls from confused, frustrated or even angry donors.
How does an organization relax those donors, calm their fears and address their concerns?
Start with common sense. This according to Kim Daley, donor services assistant for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres USA, a co-presenter of the session “Managing Donor Anger: Turning the Tide in Your Favor” at the 2008 New York Nonprofit Conference earlier this month.
“Be a good listener,” Daley said. “How you speak to someone matters. They don’t want to be cut off [or] contradicted. Treat them as unique individuals, which is good PR.”
Alia McKee, a principal at Takoma Park, Md.-based firm Sea Change Strategies and session co-presenter, offered the following four tips on how to stay on top of contentious situations:
1. Blogs. Blogs. Blogs. McKee said nonprofits should be reading blogs to find out what people are saying about them. They also should be responding to posts. “Be an active participant on blogs, but be transparent. Let them know you work for the organization,” she said.
2. Look at Charity Navigator and GuideStar rankings.
3. Monitor social-network buzz. “Know how they’re talking about you,” McKee said. “It’s definitely an insight.”
4. Monitor search engine rankings. “Go home and type ‘Splenda’ in your search engine,” she said. “The third [result] that comes up is a link [to a page that says] Splenda is dangerous. They have a brand-perception problem. Make sure you don’t.”
Organizations that can’t nip the anger in the bud should still talk to those angry callers even if staff feels like they won’t change their minds. Daley received a call from an irate woman about one of Doctors Without Borders’ acquisition mail pieces. The piece was a world map where Israel, along with other smaller countries, was listed in the legend on the corner of the map rather than on the map itself. The caller accused the organization of anti-Semitism and promised that she and all of her friends would not give a dime to it because of the perceived slight.
Daley was in the middle of the angry call when she lost the connection. Instead of forgetting about it, she used what little information she had about the woman to track her down and give her a call back.
“She was surprised by the call, she had thought I hung up,” Daley said. “She was never going to see [it] our way, but we parted ways on a more positive note.”
More often than not, donor anger is triggered by wrong information or a lack of information. “Be as educated as humanly possible about your organization,” Daley said. “Donor anger is often sparked by a misunderstanding. Giving them more information helps.”
Daley’s last piece of advice: If an organization messes up, just own up to it. “Know when to let it go,” Daley said. “Admit when your organization makes a mistake. Admit something happened that shouldn’t have and then move on. … And then allow yourself to vent after the call.”