Web Exclusive: How to Survive Donor Complaints
If you were an evil person (which, of course, you aren’t), and you wanted to do serious harm to a nonprofit organization (which, of course, you don’t), here’s an easy way: Find out about its most successful fundraising effort, and complain about it. To really make it work, recruit a few friends to complain about the same thing. Just a handful will do the trick.
Your complaints could set off a flurry of self-destructive activity: campaigns gutted of their motivational power, media buys slashed, lawyers called in to turn clear communications into other-worldly jargon. Fundraising campaigns that motivated thousands of people to give could be scrapped — because a few people complained. I’ve seen it happen!
But why do complaints have so much power? It stems from the nagging fear that the complainers might be right.
Needed: organizational self-confidence
Any nonprofit worth its salt examines its marketing efforts all the time. That’s how it knows what works and what doesn’t. If it’s doing something ineffective, it finds out makes the necessary changes.
If you’re on top of what you do, all you need when dealing with complainers is the truth:
- Our mail schedule is not a waste of money.
- Our communications are effective at getting support.
- The things we say literally are true.
Front-line people who handle the complaints often aren’t equipped with this information. That puts them in the awkward position of being unable to answer with the truth. This is easier said than done, but everyone in the organization — especially those who talk to donors — should understand and believe in what you do, including your marketing and fundraising.
A well-run fundraising program won’t be complaint-free. In fact, complaints often signal that you’re doing something right. Why? If your stuff is boring, you get few complaints. Imagine a complaint like this: Your letter didn’t get my attention, and I was unmoved by what you said.