It’s common for retail businesses to adopt the mantra: “The customer is always right.” But when’s the last time you heard “The donor is always right?” Too often, the opposite is true.
I hear a lot of complaining about donors. They should do this (e.g., give because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do; be compliant and not make us work so hard); they shouldn’t do that (e.g., give any way other than ‘unrestricted’; require reports that take us hours to complete). I don’t hear enough of “What can we do to delight our donors today?”
What can you do to delight your donors?
In What is customer service for? Seth Godin reminds us that customer service succeeds when it accomplishes what the organization sets out to accomplish.
Aha! That may be the reason so many nonprofits do such a poor job delighting their donors. They’ve made no commitment to do so. In fact, they think it’s the donors who should be delighting them (with nice fat checks)!
Why you must commit to a customer service culture
Donors make your mission possible. Without them, your organization has no raison d’etre. Similarly, without you, your donors can’t find the meaning they seek. They want to see wrongs righted… find cures for diseases… keep people from starving… but they don’t have a clue how to do it on their own. They can only do it through you.
The nonprofit customer service culture is about gratitude.
I implore you to shift your thinking – and the culture of your organization – in the direction of gratitude, rather than greediness, toward your donors. What’s important about making this philosophical shift is that it forces you to think very specifically about what you’re grateful for.
You aren’t simply asking your donors for money. Similarly, you aren’t thanking your donors for money.
You thank Nancy because she helped you save a grove of trees. You thank Liam because he helped you put food on a hungry family’s table. You thank Tom, Dick and Harry because they make your mission possible.
It is because you are so grateful that customer service becomes a breeze. You want to serve these wonderful heroes – these philanthropists who demonstrate their love of humankind with every gift. These miraculous people who voluntarily give of themselves to assure that every single one of your nonprofit stories has a happy ending.
It’s a really good thing when you want to do something that turns out to be the very best thing you can do. Because we know from research (see Blackbaud benchmarking report, Donor-Centered Fundraising, and Donor Retention and Loyalty) that donor service is the single biggest driver of donor loyalty toward your organization.
It Takes a Village
Everyone must get on board. Which means you need buy-in, from the top down. Your donors only know ONE organization. They don’t care which department you work in. If the fundraiser treats the donor well, but the receptionist treats them rudely, then your hard work is destroyed.
Make the practice of customer service part of your new employee orientation. Make it part of everyone’s job description to interact with donors. Include the daily practice of gratitude in your employee handbook. If you want your donors to stay uplifted by their philanthropy then you’ve got to practice gratitude as a way of life.
And it takes a village, because gratitude must be repeated in order to stick.
Here’s why: psychological research on gratitude by Seligman and Steen indicates that one-time acts of gratitude quickly lose their effect. They found that a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness for folks who were the gratitude recipients, but the effect was cut in half within a week and was completely gone within six months.
Devote a portion of every day to gratitude.
You can’t simply pay gratitude lip service. You need a regimen. Ask everyone on your staff to participate. Ask your volunteers too. Show them the way. Here are a few ideas:
5 Actionable Tips to Instill a Gratitude Culture
1. Keep a stack of five note cards on your desk.
Each day, write a little thank you to someone who did you a kindness that week. Perhaps a donor, or maybe a work colleague. At the end of the week, replenish your stock
2. Set aside 15 minutes each day for thank you calls or texts or tweets.
Tailor your method to the communication preference of your recipient. You don’t have to call, text or tweet just major donors. Reach out to anyone who strikes you as deserving of a little hug that week.
3. Give your board members assignments to call and thank donors.
I’ve found they love doing this, and it has the added benefit of getting them comfortable talking with donors (and on a path to becoming more comfortable with fundraising). Whenever I’ve done this, after a while folks actually asked me to give them these calls!
4. Give your program staff assignments to call and thank donors.
This helps them understand the importance of stewardship as they, too, begin to see that donors are just people. Nice folks. Caring human beings who aren’t stuffy or “above them” or anything else negative they may have imagined.
5. Institute a practice of “TYIF” (Thank You It’s Friday).
Set aside some time every Friday for “TYIF” note-writing, thank you calls, texts, tweets, emails or whatever medium you think will do the job with your particular intended recipients. Imagine someone coming over the loudspeaker every Friday at 4:00 p.m. and saying “It’s TYIF time!” You could even have some music piped in to set the proper mood.
The nonprofit/donor relationship is symbiotic.
You serve them; they serve you. Ad infinitum. If you drop the ball, so will they. There are plenty of other organizations out there ready, willing and able to serve them.
Moving forward, why don’t you be the organization they find gives them the best service?
Stop Losing Donors – Shift to a Gratitude Culture
Get my Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook. You’ll get 6 separate companion guides (at a bargain if you buy the bundle)! Or you can purchase them individually. Taken together, they are a complete Donor Retention ‘Bible’ — everything you need to raise more money by keeping your current donors and increasing their average gift! It’s filled with hands-on, practical information garnered from my 30+ years working in the nonprofit trenches. This stuff works! The Attitude of Gratitude Donor Guide alone is 98 full pages, with lots of ready-to-use samples and templates. You’ll save almost a third if you buy them all together. And you get another almost 50% off if you’re a Clairification School student!
photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
A version of this post was originally published on Nonprofit Pro (formerly Fundraising Success) April 20, 2015
Great article. I just changed my will because a non-profit I have donated to twice recently did not acknowledge my gifts. It costs money to change my will but I rather leave my money to a non-profit who is humble enough to say “Thank you”. If only the beneficiary I dropped had any idea the far reaching consequences of their inaction!
Perhaps you should tell them. Especially if it’s a cause about which you care. Otherwise, how will they learn?
Great article, with great tips. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Claire!
I’ve always thought that customer service are for huge companies that needs to answer to inquiries of customers for their products or services. I didn’t know it could be applied in simple ways to non-profit organizations. In my experience as a office volunteer in our dog rescue shelter, we always have appreciation posts to our donors monthly.