Monthly Donors: What to Do When Things Go Wrong
Of course in your organization, nothing ever goes wrong with your monthly donors. But what would you do if something did?
Would you hide? Would you stick your head in the sand and let someone else handle it? Or would you consider your donors and confess?
The reality is that most of your donors will understand that things go wrong at times. They’re human beings after all. The key is to act right away, fix the problem and prevent it from happening again. And then contact the donors in the easiest and fastest way possible to let them know what happened.
Whatever you say to your donors, don’t make it too much about systems, because that could be scary (even though we know that the bulk of problems are caused by these sometimes finicky systems.
So, what could possibly go wrong with monthly giving?
Well, I’ve heard stories of donors being charged not once, not twice, but 20 times in a row, because of a little problem in the new payment system the organization had introduced. I recommend contacting the donor right away, making sure you let them know this is fixed and making sure to refund the extra payments right away.
I’ve heard stories of organizations that changed donor bases and, for some reason, lost a gazillion monthly donors in the process. Once you lose them, it’s not that easy to get them back.
I’ve heard stories of organizations that changed payment processors and sadly, the old processor didn’t play nice with the new processor. So, again, these organizations lost oodles of sustainers. In some cases, they waited too long, and it was very difficult to get them back. One solution here could have been: a process where donors opted into the new system when they updated their credit card information. Not a short process, but the most ideal and almost seamless for the donor.
So, what did we learn from these little anecdotes? Make sure you know what your current process is. Map it out. Write it down. Make sure to engage all relevant internal staff and vendor partners who are part of the current sustainer process. Then map out what the new process will look like.
And if something does go wrong, have a quick huddle with the core group you identified in the above, so you can resolve the problem and act right away.
Mapping out the process may sound basic and silly, but it’s amazing what you can learn from simply asking the questions. What happens when a sustainer comes in, online, offline, phone? How does the data get entered and where? How does the payment get charged and when? When do thank-you letters go out? When do backend premiums go out if you offer them? What do the reports look like? Who generates the reports? Who does what? When?
Each problem will have its own solution. Do realize that things will go wrong. I guarantee it. That’s just the nature of direct response and the many channels we communicate in now. There’s a new payment system popping up almost every week. People are intrigued by new things and systems, and they don’t always work together as well as they should.
But if you clarify the processes ahead of time and involve everybody who needs to be involved, you’ll be able to solve problems right away, communicate with the donors, apologize and keep them giving monthly for a lot longer. Confess. Apologize. Solve. Keep.
Erica Waasdorp is one of the leading experts on monthly giving. She is the president of A Direct Solution, a company serving nonprofit organizations with fundraising and direct marketing needs, with a focus on monthly giving and appeals. She authored "Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant" and "Monthly Giving Made Easy." She regularly blogs and presents on fundraising, appeals and monthly giving — in person and through webinars. She is happy to answer any questions you may have about this great way of improving retention rates for your donors.
Erica has over 30 years of experience in nonprofits and direct response. She helped the nonprofits she works with raise millions of dollars through monthly giving programs. She is also very actively supports organizations with annual fund planning and execution, ranging from copywriting, creative, lists, print and mail execution.
When she’s not working or writing, Erica can be found on the golf course (she’s a straight shooter) or quietly reading a book. And if there’s an event with a live band, she and her husband, Patrick, can be found on the dance floor. She also loves watching British drama on PBS. Erica and Patrick have two step sons and a cat, Mientje.