Fundraising Decision-Making: No Power in the Audience of 1
Sometimes, the person making the complaint is a person who has a great deal of influence on your fundraising budget, your career or something equally as significant. But again, making a wholesale change for everybody based on that one person's opinion is dangerous. You're likely to harm your overall fundraising efforts in a desperate attempt to please that one person. If you can, take the time to explain the income benefits of what you're doing and how it resonates with a majority of people or at least a far greater number of people than complain about it.
Treat every complaint as an opportunity to build a relationship. Write a letter or email, call a person on the telephone, send a handwritten note — whatever you need to do to let the person know that you've received her input and that it matters to you. This is not to suggest that you're going to conclude you need to make a change as a result of that input, but you should give it thoughtful consideration. Let the person know that this comment helps you make better fundraising decisions for the benefit of your mission and those you serve.
If at all possible, eliminate the complainer from that type of communication in the future. For example, if you send out an annual calendar as a fundraising tool but a small number of people complain about the wastefulness of the calendar, code their donor records so they won't receive calendars in the future.
This is not to say that complaints should never change your strategy or impact your fundraising programs. However, time and again I've seen wholesale decisions made based on "lots of complaints" that turn out to be a very small fraction of the entire donor file that received that particular communication. At the same time, a respectable percentage of people made a donation as a result of that same communication. People who make a donation are saying that they liked a particular communication; if they didn't, they wouldn't have given. We must give equal weight to all the people who approved of what we did as we do to those who disapprove.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.