It’s Time to Stop Complaining
Pandemic. Wildfires. Snowstorms. Killer hornets. Monoliths. The election… And the list goes on. We had more than enough to justify complaining in 2020.
Yet these events — especially COVID-19 — seem to have also given us a great excuse for abysmal customer service. Every other call I make seems to begin with a recording message: “Due to COVID-19, response times may be longer than expected.” In one case, I waited 45 minutes only to then get a message that the company (a major national brand) was not supporting its phone lines at present. (You couldn’t tell me that 44 minutes earlier? No, you had to keep promising me I was moving up the queue.) Several other times, I pressed all the right buttons, waited several minutes, and then was cut off. Oops! Try again…
Now don’t just assume I am too old school to know that we’re supposed to go online now instead of using the old-fashioned telephone. These call attempts came after ignored emails, online contact forms and even a few efforts to start conversations on social media.
It’s time to stop complaining and get back to focusing on our donors.
I firmly believe (assuming I am anything like a normal person) that the companies and nonprofit organizations that show care for their “customers” will be the ones that spring back from the pandemic with super loyal supporters. Believe me, I remember my experience with the national telecom company; sure, I was on hold a while, but when my call was answered, the representative went out of her way to make sure my problem was addressed. In the course of conversation, she told me she was working at home and that her shift ended five minutes after she picked up my call, but she was not going to hang up until my problem was resolved. I suspect I’m a customer for life now.
And what about the small, local diner that wrote “Happy Holidays” and drew some Christmas holly on the cover of my take-out breakfast? That’s showing me I’m their honored guest, even if I’m limited to dashboard dining.
Yes, these are for-profit examples. But the same principle applies to nonprofit organizations: There is never a good excuse for bad donor service.
If you’ve let the pandemic and all its corresponding frustrations color your response to your donors, it’s time to take action.
- Answer their calls. If staff are working from home, calls can be forwarded to them. Even if they don’t have access to what they need to answer, they can collect the information, research it when they are in the office, and then call back.
- Receipt their gifts. It’s well worth the dollar or so to mail a receipt for a donation, because a sincere thank you is remembered and valued.
- Tell them what is now possible because they gave. This doesn’t have to be a multi-page annual report or a four-color newsletter. A half-sheet update in a receipt or even a postcard with a brief report is inexpensive and can be very meaningful.
- Truly value them. If you view your donors as necessary evils to accomplishing your mission, it’s time to get out of the nonprofit business. The reality is that your paycheck is a result of your donor support, as is all the work your organization is able to accomplish. Your supporters need to know they mean more to you than a cash withdrawal at an ATM.
- Ask them for donations. Many organizations that are doing the steps listed above and are using tried-and-true methods of fundraising are succeeding. I’ve heard many nonprofits tell me that direct mail is performing better than at any other point in recent memory. The same is true for eAppeals that feel personal — not those that read like, “To the entire free world, Greetings.” With no galas and golf outings, we now have time to read letters and emails. Take advantage of people being at home and reach out to them.
I know many nonprofits that have been hard hit by the events of 2020. Yet, many others I am familiar with are doing fine. They didn’t allow the events of 2020 to be used to justify bad donor service.
In 2021, refuse to allow complaining. Instead, show your donors that despite all the uncertainty of life, your organization continues to do the work they believe in — because they continue to stand with you. Together, you are changing the world.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.