The Donor Is Always Right — Right?
When the ‘other Margaret’ (you know, the editor-in-chief of FS magazine) asked me to write this article, I immediately thought of my first mentor and his canny advice: “Margaret, the donor is always right — even when they’re wrong.”
After years of practice and thousands of conversations, I have to admit he was right!
Situation ONE: Donor calls and wants to speak to someone “in charge.” That’s you. In less than a minute, you have the picture: “I told you to stop sending so much mail. I give twice a year — that’s it!”
As you check the database you see that, for the past three years, the donor has given nine times a year. What to do?
First, thank the donor for his past giving. Second, apologize for any inconvenience your organization might have caused. Third, ask the donor how/what communications he really wishes to receive and how often. You might be able to interject, “I see that you’ve been giving about every other month; would you like to continue that?”
Finally, confirm with the donor how you have coded his record; indicate that it might take a month or two for the new process to be activated; make a note in the file about the call. Thank the donor for bringing this to your attention.
Situation TWO: It’s April 10. The donor calls and says, “I don’t have that tax statement from you, and I need one today for my CPA.”
You know all the statements went out the end of January, but mail can get lost — even by the donor. What to do?
Always thank the donor first and always apologize for any inconvenience. Confirm the address and ask if there is a fax number available to receive the information. Tell the donor his total giving for the year and identify any large gifts. Some donors will verify the total amount right on the phone. Mail another receipt that day. In this case, the donor can appreciate the efficient and immediate method of handling the problem. Finally, thank the donor for bringing this to your attention.
Situation THREE: A long-time donor writes in and wants to speak with someone about bequests. The note you received from the person who took the call says the donor is sick, single and can’t live forever. So you call, and the first words you hear are, “I didn’t ask for that!”
But you’re looking right at the note! What to do?
Apologize for any inconvenience for YOUR misunderstanding. Don’t refer to the note again. Ask if there’s anything you can do for her while you’re on the phone; you’d be surprised at how quickly the conversation can turn around. Thank the donor for her continued support.
Situation FOUR: In your organization, the president calls major donors to thank them for recent gifts. One donor the president calls is angry about the thank-you call: “I told you never to call — about anything.”
Now your president is annoyed with you. What to do?
Check the donor’s file and the coding (‘fess up to any error on your part — if there is one.) If the donor is not coded properly, do so immediately and put notes in the donor’s file about your president’s conversation. Tell your president exactly what yo’ve done to insure that this does not happen again. Double check your policy and make sure that donors marked “do not call” are NOT called.
Situations FIVE and SIX: The apparent hang-up! I recently had two of these for two different reasons. First: a donor called seeking information about a Charitable Gift Annuity. So, I returned the call. I identified myself and my organization, and the donor said: “I don’t want any.” What to do?
I thought for a minute and decided to call back, making sure I blurted out all the information in one swift sentence. The donor thought for a second and then said, “Did you just call me?” Once I told her I had, we both laughed and talked about the annuity. The donor was certainly right — she didn’t “want anything” from the telemarketer she thought I was, but she certainly wanted information from me.
Second: I called a donor to set up a visit and then needed to change it to a conference call instead. The donor was upset that we couldn’t meet face to face and hung up. At least that’s what I thought. What to do?
I decided not to offend the donor any more, and I let the call go. To my total surprise, the next morning I had a message from the donor that went something like this: “Margaret, I’m calling because I didn’t want you to think I hung up on you. I was rushing, and the battery went dead in my phone.”
I called the donor back; acknowledged that I thought he had hung up on me; told him I didn’t call again because I didn’t want to offend him (he appreciated that); and we had a great conversation. We’re best phone buddies now.
My mentor probably does realize the valuable lesson he taught me years ago. No matter how much I might want to scream, “that’s not right,” I know to listen to the donor and affirm the donor. He taught me to thank and apologize and thank again — because the donor IS always right.
Margaret Guellich, CFRE, is senior director of development at American Life League. mguellich@ALL.org.