When a donor complains …

in Cultivation & Stewardship,Direct Mail

How do you respond when a donor complains? When a donor’s feathers are ruffled?

While there are a multitude of scenarios that might prompt a donor complaint … and I can’t possibly think of all of them, let alone share a possible response for all of them … this basic guideline ought to get the job done for you:

  •  Respond quickly. (Within 24 hours – unless it occurs over a weekend – get a letter in the mail; send the Tweet; reply to their Facebook comment; etc. But if the complaint came via social media, I recommend following up the first short, basic response with a letter in the mail if you have the donor’s address.)
  • Thank them for contacting you.
  • Acknowledge their concern – somehow state that they “raise a valid point.”
  • Explain clearly and simply why your organization did whatever it is that the donor wasn’t happy with. Don’t patronize. It may be that the donor doesn’t understand enough of the industry. Therefore your original action is bothersome to them. Give them a bit of education. Let them know there are valid reasons for what you did.
  • Thank them for their support.
  • And if you’ll change a process as a result of this mistake, say so. Thank them for the idea. (But please don’t panic based on a “complaint” or two and abandon a good fundraising strategy. As the expression goes, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”)
  • Or, if by chance you made a mistake. Own up to it.
  • Include donor schmoozing. Thank them again for their support. State how important they are.
  • Apologize for having “upset” them. And state that you have taken their concern to heart.

The approach above ought to restore the good feelings of your donor.

A quick, thorough, and polite response is also a form of stewardship. What’s more it ought to help with donor retention because I believe you’re also building trust with such a response.

I was prompted to write on this topic because of a recent event with one of my clients.

We developed a special mailing to a small number of high-dollar donors. We mailed a small box with an object directly related to the mission. But because it wouldn’t fit in all of the mail boxes (including mail slots in subdivisions, apartments, etc.), not all U.S. Postal carriers will leave it at the door. Often times a pink slip is left and the donor would then have to make a special trip to the post office to collect it. We didn’t want to inconvenience donors in this way.

Basically the Post Office couldn’t guarantee delivery to all donors. So the decision was made to send it FedEx Ground (the most cost efficient choice left).

The donor wasn’t happy receiving this “costly” package. Thought their money could be better used. They sent an email to the President of the nonprofit expressing their displeasure.

I was asked to help write the letter back to the donor explaining the situation. In writing the letter I followed my guidelines outlined above at the start of this post.

It was a thoughtful, 2-page letter that included a clear explanation of why we chose to send such a package: that it was a small and very limited mailing: and included a basic explanation of our cost analysis.

The letter also stated that, “We strive to be good stewards of the funds we receive.” And we shared a couple stats on how much of the money raised goes toward the mission (e.g., “94¢ out of every dollar raised directly helps …”), plus the nonprofit’s high Charity Navigator rating.

Ruffled feathers were smoothed. All is well.

The key is to respond quickly. Acknowledge the point the donor raised right away. And then explain your actions.

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Related posts:

How you build trust with donors.

This still holds true for donor retention.

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