What Fundraisers Can Learn From Zappos
In recent years, Zappos has made a big splash with consumers for delivering exceptional customer service. Don't like those shoes? Zappos hopes you'll call and chat with its friendly reps about it. They'd be delighted to help, no matter how long it takes. And who can forget about free shipping?
But what does good customer service mean for a nonprofit? To your donor relations? Client or member relations? Community relations? Most organizations have so many different types of relationships it's hard to know where to start, much less fund.
In a talk I gave with my fellow FundRaising Success columnists Katya Andresen and Jocelyn Harmon about online etiquette at the 2011 Bridge to Integrated Marketing Conference, Katya talked about how great customer service should be more central for nonprofits. Her comments got me thinking: What if we spent less time focusing on building our lists with new names and more time practicing proactive customer service? Would attrition still be as bad?
What does it mean?
Great customer service often means setting up systems and processes to make people feel like they're your organization's only donor. (That's the unsexy part that precedes your snazzy new multichannel campaign.) Start by centralizing all of your data in one database so donors don't get contacted multiple times by different departments and your relationships with them can be tracked clearly. Set up a tickler system to make sure your executive director personally calls a few people who make significant gifts each week. Send out a prompt thank-you for every gift — driven by a person and a database that make sure it happens like clockwork. And make that online donation form easy, secure and fast to complete.
Great customer service for a nonprofit's clients or members may mean respecting their time as much as you do your own. Keep waiting times for services short, offer flexible, job-friendly hours when they can reach you, and use un-jargony, easy-to-complete forms. Fountain House, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that supports people with mental illness through an incredible "working community" format, schedules members of its community to give tours to donors and other visitors daily. Going on tours of programs given by clients and talking one on one with them about how they benefited from the organization's work is one of the best examples of donor service I can imagine.
It's been years since I've heard fundraisers use the term "stewardship" to describe part of what they do, but that's really what we're talking about here. In fact, fundraising hasn't really changed much — we've just adopted more of the language for-profits use and found ourselves drowning in a sea of new ways to do it.
As consumers, we've all had great and terrible customer services experiences. But somehow we fall asleep at the wheel when it comes to how we do our own work. Maybe it's time to go buy some new shoes. FS
Sarah Durham is founder and principal at Big Duck. Reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or follower her on Twitter at @BigDuckSarah
Sarah Durham is president of Big Duck, a New York City-based branding, marketing and fundraising firm for nonprofits. She serves on the boards of the National Brain Tumor Society and the New York Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).