Is This You? Are You Sure?
Let’s make 2007 a year of fearless self-examination, shall we? I’m not talking about checking out your ’do every time you pass a mirror or even about those all-important preventative health self-exams that we’re all supposed to be doing. What I am talking about is eyeballing your organization from a potential supporter’s point of view. Make contact with your organization. Send an e-mail inquiring about its mission. Try to call someone in the upper administrative echelons. Try to find out about your organization’s financial details.
Try to gather information from your organization’s Web site. Try to make a donation. Spell something incorrectly or leave out some information, and see what happens.
Once you make a donation, notice how you’re treated immediately after the transaction is made, after a day or two, after a few months, over the course of the year.
And do it all under an assumed identity. Get into your organization’s system and see what happens to your name. What kind of communications do you get from your own organization? What other kinds of organizations or companies contact you using that specific information? Make requests about communications — please contact me via e-mail only; call me only before 6 p.m.; do not sell, rent, trade or give my name to anyone else — and see what happens.
I’m on this rant because I had a less-than-terrific online experience with a highly reputable, recognizable healthcare organization that does magnificent work and should be on the cutting edge of donor relationship management techniques. It at least should know how not to tick off potential supporters.
I’m not good about writing checks or, more precisely, keeping track of the checks I write. And I never have a stamp when I need one. Somewhere in my home is a pile of never-sent pieces of mail that includes everything from parking tickets and utility bills to magazine renewals and, unfortunately, charitable donations.
So I really like doing business online. And when it comes to the charities I support, I prefer to make sure it’s something to which I am deeply committed and then sign up for its monthly giving program. I tell the organization how much to take out of my account each month and it takes it; all I need do is make sure the money is there for the taking.
On Dec. 4, after being moved to tears by a television spot for the organization in question, I went to my computer to sign up for its monthly giving program. The “Donate Now” link on the home page took me to a donation page that gave me the option of making a one-time or monthly gift. A pull-down menu next to “Amount” listed numerous denominations, but none matched the amount I wanted to give. Not a problem — there’s an “Other Amount” option where you fill in whatever number you want, which I did and then supplied the rest of the required data — billing information, payment method, etc. I clicked “Submit” and got an error message that told me “an amount must be entered.” Thinking I had inadvertently skipped that box, I filled it in and then realized that my billing information had been wiped out. A security measure, I assumed. So I filled it all out again, hit “Submit” and got the same message.
This time, I was certain I had filled in the amount. I was beginning to think the Web site was malfunctioning, but as I was about to click out, I thought maybe I had entered the amount in an incorrect format. So I checked the format in the “Amount” pull-down list and entered my amount in that format: $XX.XX, re-filled in my payment information, clicked “Submit” and got the same message.
I tried another format: $XX, filled out the payment information again, clicked “Submit” and got the same message.
One more time. I tried XX.XX, with no dollar sign, filled out the payment information again and clicked “Submit,” and the payment finally was accepted. Now, why wouldn’t the Web site say something about the correct format for the amount? And why would the “Amount” drop-down list present amounts in a format that’s different from the way a donor would be required to enter it in the “Other Amount” box? And why say, “Amount must be entered” when it would be clearer to say, “Amount must be entered in proper format” and list that format?
Little thing, perhaps. But it might be enough to turn off a potential donor who’s pressed for time or easily frustrated. Why take the chance?
Another problem with this transaction: Once it was completed, the page that came up said something like “Thank you for your donation.” Polite enough, but there was no acknowledgement that I had just committed to a sustainer program and nothing noting when the monthly deductions would be made.
I used a link on the site to e-mail the organization’s donor-support department, asking for confirmation that I had, indeed, just joined its sustainer program — a program, by the way, that had a name of its own, so it’s not like the organization is unfamiliar with proper procedures for
bringing monthly givers on board.
Three days later I got a response that included confirmation of my enrollment, an explanation of when the money would come out, and a “thank you.”
Other than that response to a donor-generated e-mail with a
specific question, I got no acknowledgement from the organization beyond the initial, sketchy “transaction completed” page.
OK, so my monthly contribution isn’t a fortune, but I did commit to the organization for the long haul and probably will never even think to put a stop to the recurring donations.
As of today, Dec. 27, I haven’t heard another thing from the organization, though I’m sure that my donation will come out of my account like clockwork.
Other organizations fall all over themselves to acknowledge recurring gifts — and rightfully so, since sustainer programs provide a steady income stream with next-to-zero effort or expense on the part of the receiving organization.
Am I talking about your organization? If you’re not sure, get on your Web site right now and start clicking things and filling out forms. Try it even if you are sure. Can’t hurt. And it’ll be a good first step in accepting my challenge of making 2007 a year of fearless self-examination and impeccable donor-relationship etiquette.